“We left 10 days before the start of the Games on September 30. There was no official send-off for the team. Only the Indian Olympic Association president Raja Bhalindra Singh was present,” former Asian Games record holder Powell recalled.
Prominent among those in the contingent were Milkha Singh, Gurbachan Singh Randhawa and hockey players, including Shankar Laxman and Harbinder Singh, who beat Pakistan in the final to regain the gold medal.
The 99-member contingent had 40 officials including a top athletics federation official who travelled as an aquatics coach. “He couldn’t be accommodated in the athletics contingent so he travelled as the coach of the aquatics team,” the 81-year-old Powell recalled.
“The opening ceremony was fantastic. We had to wait outside the stadium for the march-past and it took us almost two hours to get in as we were at the halfway mark — about 47th among the 99 nations. The main attraction was the formation of the Olympic rings by five air force jets. GS Randhawa was our flagbearer. The Games Village was massive and the organizers provided us with cycles to move around. Once parked, any other athlete could use it,” said Powell.
MEETING WITH HAYES
Powell, who competed in the 100m, recalled his meeting with American Bob Hayes who won the gold with a new world record of 10.0 seconds. “I was in Heat 1 and finished fourth in 10.7 seconds. Japanese Hideo IIjima won in 10.3 seconds and only the top 3 qualified. It turned out to be the fastest heat considering the rainy conditions as we ran on the red cinder track in ankle-deep water,” Powell said. “Most Indian athletes had Patiala-made Roshan spikes but I had a Puma gifted to me by German star Heinz Schumann during the Indo-German meets. In heat 5, a Venezuelan athlete came third in 10.8s. I remember meeting Bob Hayes during warm-up. He was in Heat 8.”
Elaborating on the qualification process for the Games, Powell said: “It was known as the International Qualifying Standard. In the 100m, the mark was 10.4 seconds. I won the trials in 10.5 which could have been a national record. But it was wind-assisted. My official time was later recalibrated as 10.6s. You had to send the performances over a one-year period prior to the Olympics. I qualified from India as I had won the trials. There were 80 sprinters for 100m at the Games and my ranking could have been around 64. We also qualified for the 4x100m relay. The time of 41.2 was the standard and we did that during the first pre-Olympic trial in June at the Sree Kanteerava stadium in Bengaluru. In the final trials we did a 40.9 at Patiala.
“The squad comprising Anthony Francis Coutinho, Makhan Singh, me (I ran the curve) and Rajasekaran did 40.6 in the heats and finished fifth beating Japan. We made the semis and Japan qualified as the fastest loser. In the semis, we clocked 40.5s to finish fifth beating Japan again,”said the decorated athlete who also competed in the 200m and clocked 21.9 seconds.
INDIAN FOOD IN DEMAND
“The atmosphere was great in Tokyo. The Games village had just one track and so we had to make our own arrangements and had to train outside Tokyo. We had our own cooks. One of the dining halls, of the nine, was allotted for us. And we had a lot of athletes from other countries coming over to taste Indian food,” Powell said.
The return journey saw the Indian contingent, with the hockey gold, getting a break in Hong Kong. ”We got a lot of gifts from the companies. I got a Sanyo transistor radio, a bag from PanAm. We also got a daily allowance of eight dollars from the IOA. One dollar was five rupees then,” the former champion said.