Former Nepali Olympian recalls memorable Olympics moments
After a gap of 64 years the greatest sporting event on the planet has returned to London, England. Billions of people all around the world are glued to their TV sets to watch the events unfold. It all began with a visionary Frenchman. We must salute the father of modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, for his immortal vision of uniting youths from around the world for a noble cause.
PART OF IT
It was a great privilege and honour for me to be a tiny part of the Olympic movement in l960. In those days we were not privileged with today’s fancy electronic gizmos. Indian newspapers, All India Radio and BBC were our major sources of information. Being an athlete and footballer, my interest naturally revolved around those events.
After the completion my diploma in physical education from Wingate Institute for Physical Education in Israel, I expressed my wish to take part in the 1960 Rome Olympics, which was benevolently granted by the National Sports Council. During my five days in Rome, I visited every nook and cranny of the magnificent ancient city, not missing an inch of all the stadia and the arenas in which the games were being held.
AN OLYMPIC HERO
My first glimpse and meeting with the eventual 1960 Rome Olympic decathlon champion Rafer Johnson at the Wingate Institute for Physical Education on the very day of our arrival was one of the most valuable moments of my life. No sooner had we checked in at the Institute we were herded to the stadium where all the students were keenly and intently watching a huge black athlete demonstrating skills and techniques of decathlon. He was none other than the great all-round athlete, Rafer Johnson, the champion decathlete of Rome Olympics, who, despite his earlier debilitating injuries, won gold in the most gruelling and demanding event of modern Olympics.
To top it up, after the demonstration session I met the man himself in our dormitory rest room. He was enjoying a cold shower after a hectic workout session. I was not at all amused when he took Nepal for Naples during a brief exchange of niceties. During this brief encounter he was without any clothes (at least I had my shorts on!).
During the Tokyo games in 1964 I was given the opportunity to carry the sacred Olympic Torch. To my surprise, I was chosen by the National Sports Council to be the first person to run with it from Tribhuvan airport to the Sina Mangal crossing. We were deeply grateful to the Japanese Organising Committee for agreeing to detour the holy flame from Calcutta to Kathmandu. In a special aircraft Gen. Nara Shumsher JB Rana, Sushil Shumsher JB Rana, the then Vice President and General Secretary respectively of our apex sports body; and Mohan Raj Joshi, the secretary of the newly formed Nepal Olympic Committee, had brought the flame to Nepal. A Japanese official accompanying the Flame ignited the Torch held by Prince Basundhara who then passed it to me to start the relay.
MISUNDERSTANDINGS AND MYSTICISM
Traditionally, the Olympic Torch is ignited at the temple of Hera in Olympia, Greece by Holy Priestess in a solemn ceremony. During its long journey to the Olympic venue the flame and the Torch must always burn. Any untoward incident such as accidental dowsing is considered sacrilege and an unholy act, doing great harm not only to the organising nation but the whole world. Security personnel and Japanese gentlemen accompanying the flame refused to be transferred to the assigned hotel and maintained tight vigil all night at the Open Air Theatre.
Most of those lining up the streets from the airport to the Open Air Theatre, including my family members, expected a god’s idol to be carried in a well decorated chariot with bajagaja so that they could have a blissful Darshan and shower it with ful, abir, akchheta, bheti etc. Instead, a runner with smoke belching ‘rod’ ran in front of their houses and left a cloud which did not clear for almost half an hour. They all were perplexed beyond expectations. Nonetheless, they showered all their puja saman onto the holy Torch with deep respect.
During l972 Munich Games the world was saddened by the terrorist attack on Israeli participants and the killings that followed. Personally, we lost a coach who showed great interest on me and late Laxman Shah during our stay at Wingate Institute in Israel. Laxman told me later he was with the Israeli coach at the village an hour or so before the dastardly act.
Since that eventful day in l964 the holy Olympic Flame has crisscrossed the continents of Asia and Australia three times on the way to Sydney, Seoul, and Beijing Olympiads, but never ever returned to Nepal. All of us, however, must be grateful to the Organising committee of Beijing Games for their thoughtful and bold gesture in taking the Holy Torch all the way to the top of the world, Mount Everest. Let us all hope it will, sooner rather than later, return to Nepal.