For the Record

Pun­jabi pride is wounded as Guin­ness de­nies Fauja old­est marathoner tag

India Today - - NATION - By Asit Jolly

Pun­jabis across the world are aghast at Guin­ness World Records’ ( GWR) re­fusal to ac­knowl­edge 100-year-old Bri­tishIn­dian Sikh Fauja Singh as the world’s old­est marathon run­ner even af­ter he ran all 42.195 km at the Toronto Wa­ter­front Marathon on Oc­to­ber 16, su­per­vised by pro­fes­sional ref­er­ees.

GWR Editor-in-chief Craig Glen­day, how­ever, in­sists Fauja’s claims can­not be au­then­ti­cated and will re­main “open” un­til he can pro­duce his orig­i­nal birth cer­tifi­cate—a doc­u­ment that most likely never ex­isted. Fauja was born in a poor farmer’s fam­ily of Pun­jab’s Bea­spind vil­lage, near Ja­land­har, on April 1, 1911. Nei­ther his Bri­tish pass­port is­sued in 2003 nor three ear­lier In­dian pass­ports dat­ing back over 40 years have been ac­cepted. And con­trary to the com­pany’s own guide­lines, which state that al­ter­na­tive ID will be ac­cepted, se­nior GWR rep­re­sen­ta­tive Anne-lise Rouse told IN­DIA TO­DAY, “Pass­ports and other mid-to­late-life rep­re­sen­ta­tions of age are no­to­ri­ously un­re­li­able when un­ac­com­pa­nied by orig­i­nal proofs of birth.”

GWR’S in­ter­ven­tion has se­ri­ously riled Fauja’s ad­mir­ers who have grown in num­ber since 2003, when he first caught the world’s at­ten­tion, fin­ish­ing the Toronto marathon in the 90-plus cat­e­gory in five hours and 40 min­utes. His le­gion of fans sus­pect there may be an el­e­ment of racism in the re­fusal to recog­nise his achieve­ment. Former Pun­jab chief min­is­ter Amarinder Singh says, “Guin­ness should be cel­e­brat­ing Fauja’s amaz­ing feat.” Union Min­is­ter of Sta­tis­tics and Pro­gramme Im­ple­men­ta­tion M.S. Gill called on the Prime Min­is­ter to ac­knowl­edge the cen­te­nar­ian with a Padma award.

The al­le­ga­tions of prej­u­dice do not seem off the mark con­sid­er­ing GWR’S fail­ure to pro­duce age records for Dim­itrion Yor­dani­dis, a Greek listed as the old­est man to com­plete a marathon at 98 in Athens in 1976. IN­DIA TO­DAY’S re­peated queries elicited the fol­low­ing re­sponse from GWR’S Lon­don of­fice: “We can con­firm that Nor­ris Mcwhirter ( GWR fact-finder) ap­proved Dim­itrion Yor­dani­dis’ record at the time, and would not have ac­cepted this claim with­out sight of the nec­es­sary pa­per­work.” The ex­pla­na­tion does not wash with Fauja’s trainer Har­man­dar Singh. “There isn’t even a pic­ture of the man avail­able,” says Har­man­dar. He main­tains that Fauja made no ap­pli­ca­tion to GWR and it was the com­pany that ap­proached the run­ner ahead of the Toronto Marathon, only to pub­licly dis­credit him a day af­ter the race.

Fauja is not quite sure what the com­mo­tion is all about. “Who is this Guin­ness fel­low?” he asked his trainer. The ‘Tur­baned Tor­nado’ is train­ing hard for the April 2012 Lon­don Marathon in­stead.

AP PHOTO/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS, CHRIS YOUNG

FAUJA SINGH

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