Friday, January 17, 2014
The first person to represent India at the Summer Olympics was the Anglo-Indian Norman Pritchard, who, it is said, was holidaying in Paris at the time of the Olympics in 1900 and was therefore persuaded to represent the country at the games. For the next twenty years, there was no India at the Olympics. In 1920, Sir Dorab Tata spearheaded the mission to send a contingent to Antwerp. That contingent comprised six sportsmen, who did not do anything that was newsworthy. That wasn't a surprise, for they had been hastily selected, and their travel uncertain, what with the money pledged coming to only about two-thirds of the estimated cost. It was Sir Dorab's personal contributions that enabled the team to go.
Four years later, Sir Dorab was at it again. But this time, he was better prepared. He had enlisted the help of a pioneering institution in Madras - the YMCA School of Physical Education, which had been founded in 1920 by an American, Harry Crowe Buck. The Director of the YMCA, A.G.Noehren was made the secretary of the Indian Olympic Association and the selection of the sportsmen was through the 'Delhi Olympic Games'. The final contingent of eight members was evenly split between 'natives' and British / Anglo-Indians. Three of the eight were from Madras: Lakshmanan (Hurdles), Heathcote (High Jump) and Venkatramaswamy (the Mile) and the others were from Bombay, Bengal (2), Patiala and the United Provinces. H.C. Buck was the chef-de-mission and while the athletes did not really cover themselves in glory, they acquitted themselves well enough to ignite the Olympic movement in India.
Since 1920, India has not missed any of the Olympics. The school started by Buck has now grown into the YMCA College of Physical Education, working out of a 64-acre campus in Nandanam, in the centre of the city. The picture shows one of the fields on the campus. The runner appears to be more fitness enthusiast than Olympic hopeful!