India’s 88-Year-Old Athletic Champ

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KOCHI ~ In the recently concluded 17th Asian Masters Athletics Championship held in Taipei, Krishnan Nair clocked 6 min 22 sec in the 800 metre race to win the silver medal. He did this with a painful calf injury, but that is only half the story. He is 88 years old and probably the oldest to win a medal for India at an international meet.

“I had to participate in the 500 metre walk too, but the injury did not let me,” he says. The organisers of the championship were not confident of his participating even in the 800 metre event. “They advised me not to try if I was not fit,” Nair says, “But the pain vanished once I heard the whistle blow.”

Nair, who lives in Thiruvananthapuram, has been running since his childhood. “It was my favourite pastime. It developed into a passion once I went to Madras University for higher studies.” In the 1930s, he ran the 800 metre in 2 minutes and 2 seconds to create a university record.

Athletics took a backseat after he joined the Indian Forest Service. But Nair still walked five kilometres every morning in the 30 years of his work life. This was in addition to the “official long distance walks” through thick forests across India. After retirement in 1984, Nair started running again. His first victory was in 1994 at the National Veterans Athletics Championship, where he won gold in the 500 metre walk in the 65-plus age group.

Since then, Nair has become a regular winner in state and national meets for veterans. He won two gold medals—800 metre race and 500 metre walk—in the 32nd National Masters Athletic Championship held at Chandigarh in 2011. “Somebody even lodged a complaint against me saying I was younger than my age,” he says.

For the Taipei meet, he started practising two months in advance, but a few weeks before the event he got the calf injury. He was sceptical about going because of the severe pain, but his three sons coerced him into it. “They told me to go and enjoy the trip,” he says.  Now, Nair is setting his sights on a gold medal at the International Masters Athletic Meet that will take place in Brazil next year.