Two-time Asian Games gold medallist in long-distance running, Hari Chand, passed away on Monday morning aged 69.
Reports said the former athlete was undergoing treatment at Capitol Hospital in Jalandhar. The cremation will likely to take place on June 14 at Ghorewaha village in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur district.
Hari Chand, the winner of gold medals in 5000m and 1000m events at the 1978 Bangkok Asian Games, also took part in two Olympics — 1976 Montreal and 1982 Moscow.
The celebrated athlete also made national record in 10,000m at the Montreal Olympics, which stood for 32 years. He finished eighth in the second heat in the race, clocking 28:48.72. Some 32 years later Surendra Singh broke the record.
Hari Chand tried his luck one last time at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, but finished in 10th place in the 10,000m heats.
Among those who expressed condolences at the demise of the legendary athlete included Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, who said the celebrated former athlete from Hoshiarpur was the “pride of Indian athletics”.
Athletics Federation of India president Adille Sumariwalla said, “Hari Chand, my team-mate in the 1980 Olympic Games, is a legend of Indian sport. It saddens me and the entire fraternity that he has passed. It is a loss to the community as well. AFI and the athletics community pray for Hari Chand’s soul to attain peace and extend our deepest sympathy to the family.
“Along with Shivnath Singh, he played a big role in sustaining the popularity of distance running.”
Hailing from Ghorewaha village in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur district, Hari Chand pursued his passion for running — his father, Jaggu Ram, is said to have desired him to join an akhara and become a wrestler – and surfaced at the national level for the first time in the National Junior Athletics Championships in 1970 where he won the 3000m.
Coaches like JS Saini and Jagmohan Singh were impressed with his natural talent and encouraged him. He joined the Central Reserve Police Force as a head constable to train with a bunch of good runners. He was short statured but had endurance and speed to run tirelessly over long distances.
It was not long before his famed rivalry with Shivnath Singh came to the fore and held the attention of athletics fans around the country. Hari Chand beat Shivnath Singh to the 10000m gold medal in the Asian Track and Field Meet in Seoul, winning in 14:02.4. He also won the 5000m bronze medal.
Legendary swimmer Khajan Singh, winner of silver medal in 200m butterfly at the 1986 Seoul Asian Games, was quoted as saying by NDTV that Arjuna awardee Hari Chand’s death was a “great loss for Indian sport”.
“It’s a great loss for Indian sport. In the CRPF, he was my superior. He was so competitive and yet so simple. He used to groom players everywhere he went. I personally learned a lot from him. He was like a guiding light to many of us,” Khajan said.