Shamsher Khan-India's Forgotten Hero

Shamsher Khan: The Forgotten Olympic Hero

One of India’s oldest living Olympian and the first one to represent India in swimming at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics Games, remains forgotten till today.

Shamsher Khan, First Swimmer to represent India in Olympics
Shamsher Khan, First Swimmer to represent India in Olympics

Mehboob Shamsher Khan, aged 86, lives in Kythapalli village of Andhra Pradesh with his family. His remarkable feat of coming 4th at the 200 metre butterfly in Melbourne remains unrecognized till today.

No other Indian has been even close to his record in the past Six Dacades.

Shamsher Khan represented India in Melbourne Olympics 1956
Shamsher Khan represented India in Melbourne Olympics 1956

When new generation Indian swimming hero, Sandeep Sejwal secured a 36th positon in the preliminary rounds at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, people Nationwide lauded his achievement.

Shamsher Khan joined the Indian Army in 1946 when he was sixteen years old. Although Khan learned swimming at the ponds in his village, he trained formally for the sport during his Army days.

He started swimming in 1949 and competed in his first tournament in Mysore.

Shamsher Khan
Shamsher Khan Now

By 1954, Shamsher Khan had set a National Record for the 200 metre butterfly event.

The following year he became a National Champion, earning himself a chance to participate in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. He self-sponsored his trip since those days Government wasn’t used to sending sportsmen for Olympics as India got Independence in 1947.

Although his airfare for Melbourne was sponsored by the Government, Khan took a loan of Rs 300 for his other expenses, which was later deducted by the Army from his salary.

India’s first swimmer participated in the 200 metre butterfly and 200 metre breaststroke event.

India's Contingent of Melborne Olympic 1956
India’s Contingent of Melborne Olympic 1956

However he missed the bronze by a whisker and came fourth.

He was confident of winning gold but he was shattered when he came fourth. Shamsher Khan not deterred by failure wanted to try for next Olympics, regretted at not getting a second chance.

He served in the Army for 24 years going on to fight in the Indo-China war of 1962 and Indo-Pak war of 1971. He retired in 1973 from the Army as a ‘Subedar’.

India's Contingent of Melborne Olympic 1956
India’s Contingent of Melborne Olympic 1956

After retirement he settled in Kythapalli with his wife and five children.  With age, Khan developed heart problems and a hearing impairment. 

Having never been honoured by the government, Khan says, “I don’t have much expectation from the government as they don’t fulfil our demands. After doing so much for the country, no one has ever recognized me.

In recent years, sadly, Khan has not been in the best of health, suffering a stroke a few years ago.

Shamsher Khan and his wife Fatima Unnisa at their house in Kaithepalli near Repalle.
Shamsher Khan and his wife Fatima Unnisa at their house in Kaithepalli near Repalle.

In view of the family’s dire financial conditions, however, Khan has refused, or is unable to buy medication for his treatment, instead telling people he is surviving on his laurels, on being a champion.

No sports body has granted Khan either a pension or a reward.

The champion has run from pillar to post, approaching several government offices and officials for some form of assistance, but got no response.

His Health is deteriorating with time and Age.
His Health is deteriorating with time and Age.

The current crop of Indian swimmers, despite having international coaches and world-class facilities, struggle to even qualify for the preliminary rounds.

The government should recognize his achievements although it has been too late.

He deserves to be honored in his old age atleast.

 

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