75 years of independence, 75 iconic moments from Indian sports: No 53 - 1986: Khajan Singh wins historic swimming silver at Asian Games

India will complete 75 years of Independence this year. Here is a series acknowledging 75 great sporting achievements by Indian athletes.

September 25, 1986: Khajan Singh wins historic silver in swimming at the Asian Games

September 25, 1986: Khajan Singh wins historic silver in swimming at the Asian Games | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

India will complete 75 years of Independence this year. Here is a series acknowledging 75 great sporting achievements by Indian athletes.

India will complete 75 years of Independence this year. Here is a series acknowledging 75 great sporting achievements by Indian athletes.  Sportstar will present one iconic sporting achievement each day, leading up to August 15, 2022.

September 25, 1986: Khajan Singh wins historic silver in swimming at the Asian Games

Khajan Singh won a silver medal in the 200m butterfly at the Seoul Asian Games in 1986. His achievement broke a 35-year medal hiatus for the country. India’s previous Asiad best was in the inaugural edition of the Games in New Delhi when the country managed six medals.

It was a self-imposed lockdown by Singh that propelled him to a podium finish in Seoul.

“It was a lockdown indeed. This is for a national cause to fight COVID-19. What I experienced was my hard work in search of an Asian Games medal, a recognition for  swimming which was so close to my heart,” Khajan told  Sportstar as he relived one of the glorious moments in Indian sports.

Having begun his illustrious career with a 100m butterfly bronze at the 1979 Trivandrum junior nationals, Khajan took seven more years to reach the zenith of his swimming story which began in humble surroundings of Munirka Village in south Delhi. “It was a small pond near the Baba Ganganath Mandir where I developed my love for swimming,” said Khajan.

The lockdown phase for Khajan began at the training camp for the Asian Games. “I was determined that I have to win a medal at Seoul. My swimming fraternity wanted me to achieve something and the intensity of doing something took me to Newcastle (in Australia) where I trained with (coach) Eric Arnold for ten months.”

The Eric Arnold Swim Centre became Khajan’s world and there was nothing on his mind except swimming. “The coach had just one instruction. Lock yourself at the Swim Centre. My day started at 4 in the morning. As Eric would order ‘4.30 in water’. Train for three hours, eat, sleep, train, eat and sleep. I was confined to my room and the pool for weeks and months. There was no mobile phone, no TV, no internet. Just myself and the pool. It was a sporting lockdown.”

As Khajan explained, “As it is swimming is the toughest sport because all you see is water. The spectators are out of your mind because you see nothing and hear nothing once you are inside the water. It is just you and you, pushing yourself and throwing fleeting glances at the competitor in the lanes that flank you.”

When Khajan returned, he plunged into the final phase of preparation of four months. “India pulled out of the Commonwealth Games and we just had to focus on the Asian Games. I was again in a state of kind of isolation. From the Nehru Stadium to Talkatora Pool and back. It was a punishing schedule but then one had to achieve the goal too. For four months it was again just the pool and me.”

At the Asian Games, Khajan began with a sixth-place finish in the 100m butterfly. “I was not worried because my event was the 200m. I had prepared hard and was ready even though I missed my coach since he was refused permisson to travel to the Asian Games. (He was allowed to travel at the 1988 Olympics to the same city).”

Recalling the race, Khajan said, “I was in Lane 5 and just focussed on Lane 4 (Yukinori Tanaka) since he was Japan No. 1 and the favourite. He actually slowed the race and I failed to notice the guy in Lane 3 (Japan No 2 Hiroshi Sato). Sato won in what was one of the closest finishes of the swimming event at the Seoul. Half stroke separated us all.”

The winner clocked 2:01.06, Khajan 2:02.38 and the bronze medalist 2:02.99.

Khajan lamented, “If only I had my coach with me. He would have not allowed me to make the tactical mistake. But I was happy that I could win a medal in swimming.”

India’s previous swimming medal had come in the 1951 Delhi Asian Games when Sachin Nag won the gold in the men’s 100m freestyle.

The silver at Seoul made Khajan a hero. “It was a boost to swimming and people came to recognise the sport. I am grateful to the print media of that time for giving us wide coverage. I have preserved my Sportstar copy that carried my coverage.”

Posted in Delhi as Deputy Inspector General (Sports) in Central Reserve Police Force, Khajan, 55, appeals to the citizens to “stay indoors and support the government, health workers and police” in this battle against coronavirus.

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