Eddie Sequeira was born seven years before India's independence, and was raised in Mumbai's Parel, once a hub of the island city's textile mill industry and labour movement. He went to a neighborhood school that was not known for sports activities, and therefore, he becoming a hero in the sport of athletics, by his own description, a late bloomer, has to be put down as walking into serendipity.
Within a couple of years of taking up running, young Eddie created records at State and National championships in the half mile (800m), and metric mile (1500m), and at all-India Railway meets. Furthermore, he became India and Asia's best in the metric mile (1500m) and 5000m track runs.
When at his peak in the metric mile, an accident on track, prevented him from becoming a sure shot winner at the 1966 Asian Games in Bangkok. He was elbowed, and he fell on the track. But four years later, he won the 5000m silver at the Asian Games held in Bangkok again.
After three and half years with Central Raikway, Eddie joined Tata Steel in March 1964, but missed the qualification timing for the 1500m event of the Tokyo Olympics by 0.1 seconds. He did not qualify for both the 800m and 1500m of the Mexico City Olympics 1968, but eventually made it to the 5000m event of the Munich Olympics in 1972.
It was the chief instructor at the Central Railway, Parel, who was instrumental in getting Eddie introduced to running.
"He said all the apprentices should run the 100m at the Republic Day function in 1960. I ran the 100m in long pants. And then, Baldev Singh, who was India's long jumper, asked me to come to the Khalsa College (at King's Circle) and practice running. Within the first year, I reached the State standard, and the second year, national standard," Eddie recalled to
Sportstar in the course of an interview around his Olympic debut in Munich in 1972, when the Palestinian Black September group killed 11 Israeli athletes (two at the Olympic Village and nine at the airport).
Excerpts from that interview:
Q: How did you qualify the the Munich Olympics in 1972?
A. I was in the Asian team, training and competing at meets in Germany in 1972 for two and half months from June to August. Myself and Sriram Singh were part of the Asian team that was based in Cologne. We took part in 15 meets at Cologne, Stuttgart, Aachen, Koblenz, Munich and a few more cities in Germany. We were in Germany for training cum competition to prepare us for the Munich Olympics.
All our coaches were Germans. I was already training under a German coach Otto Peltzer, who had been a World class middle distance runner and world record holder. The amazing thing was that the German coaches ran with us. We used to run odd events; the 3000m, 5000m, 1 mile and 2 miles. There was a competition between Europe and Asia at Aachen, and I ran the 5000m here. I kept on improving the timings and also my speed.
I qualified for the Asian team and Olympics because I was the best in Asia in the 1500m. In 1966, I created the Asian record. I shifted to 5000m in order to participate at the Munich Olympics.
Q: Why did you shift to 5000m?
A. In 1968, the Russian team came to India. And I was told that they did not have runners in 1500m, but they will run the 5000m. As a consequence, I was told to run the 5000m. And I broke the national record. Then I took a liking for the 5000 metres.
The India – Russia tests took place in Madras, Bhilai, Jalandhar and Delhi. All on grass tracks. I had never run the 5000m before competing against the Russians. But I must have run the 5000m, ten times before the Munich Olympics.
Q: When did you decide to attempt the 5000m at the Munich Olympics?
A. I missed the 1968 Olympics in both the 800m and 1500m. In 1964, I missed the 1500m for the Tokyo Olympics by 0.1 seconds. It was after 1968 that I thought it was best to go for the 5000m at Munich. In 1966, I was running into the world standards. I was doing 3.46.6 seconds and that was the Asian record. I was sure of winning the 1500m gold at the 1966 Bangkok Asian Games, but I fell on the track, elbowed from the right. Then I shifted to 5000m for the 1970 Bangkok Asian Games and I won a silver medal. The Sri Lankan Lucien Rosa was very good. I relaxed before the finish line.
Q: What was your preparation for Munich ?
A. My last meet as part of the Asian team was at Munich, where I ran the 3000 metres before reaching the Olympic Village in the end of August. We did forest running and track running, and also interval training. We were at the Olympic Village seven days before the start of the Games.
Q: You achieved your personal best in the heats of the Olympics
A. I had trained very hard to go to the Olympics. After missing the 1964 and 1968 Olympics, I was determined to go to Munich. I wanted to run in the Olympics because the world’s best were running there. One feels nice about it with so many countries assembling for the Summer Games.
Then, you learn how to do, and what to do only by running with them - the world class runners. I gained experience at the Munich Olympics. In India, we did not have the synthetic track for training, until 1965. Then they put two tracks at the National Institute of Sports, Patiala - on the 7th and 8th lanes. But I trained and competed only on synthetic tracks with the Asian team.
Q: Your interaction with Lasse Viren who won the 5000m?
A. No one knew that Lasse Viren would win, but he was there. I spoke to him in the Olympic Village, and found out about his training and nutrition. Kenyan Kip Keino was also there. We met many times and discussed about 1500m and 5000m.
I met Viren after the 5000m event. I told him about my sand running in Goa, hill training at the Taj Village in Goa, at Malabar Hill and Pali Hill in Bombay. He told me about Fartlek (speed and stamina play) training or short interval training. For example, you run for 1000m and jog for 400m, for endurance. In India we did not do forest running at all.
Q: Your memories of Munich Olympics ?
A. I was the flag bearer at the Closing ceremony. I will not forget this. We athletes exchanged pins at a demarcated place at the Olympic Village. I collected 70 odd pins and my show case is full of pins. Adille Sumariwalla will get pins for me from Tokyo. My hobby is to collect Olympic pins.
Q. Your impression of Sriram Singh?
A. Sriram was a super 800m runner. He had good speed. He was strong enough, much stronger than me. Otto Peltzer told me that the more relaxed I am, the faster I will run. He also told me that when you are running with the world class runners, always take the lead. I had the striding power. People used to tell me: Eddie, you are running like a clock.
Q. Your early days and years with Tata Steel?
A. I was staying at Parel, and I was a member of the Track Trotters Club. I used to train at the University Stadium. I used to run in all Railway meets. Then I spent 37 years with Tata Steel and took part in the Tata meet, and the all India Steel games meet. Once coach Ken Bosen asked me to run the Steeplechase so that Tata Steel can win the award. He told me to land on with both feet together on water, not on one leg Tatas had world class sportspersons on its staff. They looked after me for 37 years. I have worked for JRD, Ratan, Rusi Modi. Now I pray for my good health.
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