Hari Chand, India’s finest long-distance runner, was two-time Olympian and won double gold at 1978 Bangkok Asian Games.
Born in rural Punjab, Hari Chand’s father Jaggu Ram wanted him to become a wrestler. But Hari, who as a boy loved to chase rabbit across the village fields, turned out to be a runner and went on to become India’s most successful long-distance runner.
Hari Chand caught national attention when his famed rivalry with Shivnath Singh came to the fore. In 1974, he won the national 5,000m and came second behind Shivnath Singh in 10,000m. But in 1975, at the Asian Track and Field Meet in Seoul, Hari Chand beat Shivnath Singh to win the 10000m gold medal with a continental record and also won a bronze in the 5,000m category.
Despite his short stature, Chand impressed all with his extraordinary speed. His achievement at the national and the continental level brought him the Arjuna award and a ticket to the 1976 Montreal Olympics. At the Games, running barefoot, he finished eighth in his 10000m heats in 29:48.72. He did not make the final but his timing stood as India’s national record for 32 years before Surendra Singh bettered it in the final at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Four years later, in the Moscow Games, Hari Chand clocked 29:45.8 to finish 10th in the 10000m heats and 2:22:08 to finish 31st among 74 starters.
But Hari Chand’s biggest achievement remains his gold medal win in 5000m and 10000m at the the 1978 Asian Games. He wanted to defend his titles at the Asian Games in 1982 but a viral fever before the Games ended his ambitions.
On 13th June 2022, Hari Chand died in his native city of Hoshiarpur in Punjab at the age of 69. Athletics Federation of India (AFI) President Adille J Sumariwalla, who was the teammate of Hari Chand remembered, “It is a tribute to his determination that he was able to set a National Record in the Olympic Games. He knew that getting a place in the 15-man final was going to be tough and pushed himself, despite running barefoot, to get the time he did.”