The 1952 Helsinki Games was a shot in the arm for women’s sports in India. Nilima Ghose and Mary D’Souza took a dash in the 100m sprint to introduce Indian women to the world of the Olympics.
Seventeen-year-old Nilima, the first to run the 100m heats, timed 13.6 seconds to lose out on a laurel. She did not do any better in the 80m hurdles, clocking 12.9 seconds to finish at the bottom of heat 2, but she became a trendsetter.
The track and field athlete also excelled in badminton and discus throw for Bengal. Before the world could witness her multi-sport talent, she married footballer Kurt Vick in 1956 and left India two years later to settle in Germany.
There have been efforts from coaches, players and the media to contact Nilima in the past five decades, but nobody could find a channel to her address or telephone number. One faction of the sports fraternity in Bengal believes she didn’t want to keep in touch with her British-Indian roots, while the others feel the reason behind her silence is perhaps death.
Swapan Raha, the secretary at the Athletics Coaches Association of Bengal, recalled how yesteryear journalists would call up for information on Nilima. “People still call. Not like before but they do. We don’t know where she is. We have only heard about her achievements, both for India and Bengal. Some people have started to believe that she is probably no more,” he says.
Nilima and Vick married at the German Consulate in Kolkata, but there are no records. There was no Internet then either. Due to security issues, the Consulate could not divulge her current address. “Unfortunately, the German Consulate Kolkata doesn't maintain any record for German residents in Kolkata or in its consular jurisdiction.
“Please note that the Consulate is also unable to share any information pertaining to any German national due to data protection and information security regulations,” was the Consulate’s response to the query by Sportstar on e-mail.
As we await a response from the Indian embassy in Berlin, it is imperative to note how many athletes Nilima may have silently blessed by fulfilling her Olympic dream just five years after India's independence.
Five Indian women — Karnam Malleswari (weightlifting), Saina Nehwal (badminton), Mary Kom (Boxing), Sakshi Malik (Wrestling) and P.V. Sindhu (badminton) — have been among medals at the Olympics in the last 20 years.
Mirabai Chanu (weightlifting) and Lovlina Borgohain (boxing) have respected the trend with their Tokyo heroics.
Since the time of Nilima and Mary, only three more women have run the 100m sprint at the Games — Mary Leela Rao (1956), P.T. Usha (1980) and Dutee Chand (2016 and 2020).
Nilima may or may not be around, but her landmark achievement will remain a part of the Olympic folklore.
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