Norman Pritchard : India’s first ever Olympic medal winner

The modern Olympic games began in 1896, and India did not have any representatives at those games. However, four years later, at the 1900 Paris games, India landed not one, but two silver medals, thanks to efforts of Norman Pritchard. 

      Norman Pritchard was born in Calcutta on the 23rd of June, 1875. Pritchard studied at St. Xavier’s College, and won the Bengal province 100 yards sprint title seven times in a row between 1894 and 1900, while also setting a meet record on the 18th of February, 1898. Norman’s timing of approximately 9.8 seconds ( official records were not maintained in those days ) was considered to be in the range of the world’s best sprinters at the time. Pritchard was an all – round athlete, who scored the first hattrick in Indian football for St. Xavier’s against Sovabazar in 1897. He also excelled at Rugby. It is also important to note that Norman was involved in Indian football both as a player as well as an administrator. 

      Norman travelled to England in 1900 while working for Trading company Bird & Co. Although the reason for his exact visit has not been confirmed, his growing reputation as an athlete and being in the right place at the right time ensured that he was invited by the British authorities. On June 12, 1900, he was elected as a member of the elite London Athletic Club. The very next day, he won the Club’s Challenge Cup for 440 yards.

Two weeks later, he competed at the same club’s events, and was the winner in the 100 yards and 120 – yard hurdles categories, even beating the 1897 British AAA champion in the latter one of those races. The following weekend, he competed at the AAA ( Amateur Athletics Association ) Championships, which was a trial for the Olympics. Since he was the runner – up in the 120m hurdles race, he qualified for the Games.

      At the 1900 games, while competing for Colonial India under the British rule, he became the first India – born Olympian ever at the Olympics. He competed in five events. In the 60m and 100m sprints, he tried his best but failed to qualify for the finals. He did reach the finals of the 110 metres hurdles, but he only managed to take the 5th spot. However, he succeeded in the 200m finals, finishing second, and in the 200m hurdles finals, he landed another silver, finishing only behind Alvin Kraenzlein, who is regarded as the ‘ father of the modern hurdling technique ‘. In the process, he became the first Asian to win medals at the Olympics. 

      Following his Olympic wins, Norman became the secretary of the Indian football association from 1900 to 1902. He then relocated to England in 1905, and eventually moved to the United States to pursue a career in acting. He began his London stage career in 1907, and his Broadway debut in 1914. He went on to act in 26 plays and 27 silent movies, and became the first Olympian to do so.

      On October 31st, 1929, he unfortunately passed away due to a brain malady while living Los Angeles, and he died penniless. His wife and child too had left him by then, and had returned to India. 

      There has been a debate regarding Norman’s nationality. Olympic Games scholar David Wallechinsky in his book titled as ‘ The Complete Book of Olympics ‘ has accredited Norman with dual nationality, as he was undecided about Pritchard’s nationality. Ian Buchanan, in the ‘ Journal of Olympic History ‘ suggests that he was a British colonial resident in India, who was chosen to represent Great Britain at the Olympics. However, Gulu Ezekiel, one of India’s best sports historians, and Raju Mukerji, a former cricket player and coach, argue that Pritchard was a resident of India from his birth in 1875 until 1913, and when he won the medals in 1900, he was Indian by birth and residence. Moreover, even the International Olympic Association recognizes him as an Indian, and have credited the medals to India. 

      It took another 28 years for an Asian to land a medal at the Olympics. But Norman Pritchard paved the way and showed the world that a person born and living in Asia could dominate in a field which had an advantage over him , thanks to training in Europe’s greater conditions and possessing better resources. While Milkha Singh and PT Usha came extremely close to winning medals in athletics over the next century, Norman records stand tall above the rest. Here’s hoping that his feats are emulated by the Indian athletes in the coming Games at Tokyo 2021.

The Queen’s Gambit : Review

     As a high school chess player, who played at the zonal level but quit the game due to unforeseen circumstances, I was intrigued by the Queen’s Gambit. It was the number 1 Netflix show in 63 countries, and had reached the top 10 in 92. I was watching episodes of Breaking Bad ( forgive me for being late to the party ) back to back over the past 2 months or so, and with it soon drawing to a close, I was considering what to watch next. Depictions of sport, for all their on – screen enthusiasm, come across as tepid, let alone for a game as introverted as chess. How do you make a sport that could lead to a tame draw after hours of toiling, have the same momentum as say, a FIFA World Cup semifinal ? 

     But ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ manages to pull off this heist , only faltering towards the final stages. A seven episode miniseries that chronicles the meteoric rise of a fictitious orphan, Beth Harmon, in the chess world. The show captures the era really well . Unlike other sitcoms like Mad Men, which are set in a similar time, the sexism portrayed may not tend to be on the nose, as it should be, but rather subtle, which does add more nuance, such as the time when Beth is paired opposite another woman in the 1st round of the State Championships, clearly on the presumption of taking it easy on the women. It does, however, make it seem unusually effortless for Beth to climb the sporting ladder in the intensely competitive world of 64 squares, which comes across as strange. Even today, as per FIDE, the official Chess governing body, only 16%, or approximately one in six registered chess players are female. One cannot be in denial of sexism in sport, and the opportunities that it has stolen from women.

     However, when it comes to the Chess itself, ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ does it rather well. Even to an absolute novice with no knowledge of the game whatsoever, the game sequences build up a sense of fascination. They are short and measured, and focus as much on the players personalities as on their moves, which helps keep the viewer engrossed, with an engaging soundtrack adding to the momentum. There are times when you wish to see a competitive fight after a build up, say for instance when Harmon and Benny Watts are competing to be the best player at the US trials, only to be directly led to a scene where Benny declares that his mistake led to his loss. This conciseness though is essential, for it gives time to explore the professional and personal relationships between Beth, who has always been a loner, and her protégés, who ultimately help her to up her game and topple the reigning world champion and her nemesis, Borgov. 

     But this is where the show falters. Beth topples her opponents in rapid succession at the Moscow Open, with a few tender exchanges with Alekhine being the saving grace, only to face Borgov conveniently in the final round, like the Big Boss at the end of a video game. But we know before the end draws near that she is going to win. The atmosphere does not suggest something extraordinary to be carried out at the last minute, nor anything different from the norm, like in an underrated sports movie like Moneyball. It falls into the trap of the underdog storyline, which is something that plagues sports movies time and time again. Although this was expected, we feel that it could have been executed in a better way. She also barely suffers any losses while making her rapid ascension in the sporting world. Even the best grandmasters would inform you that their win percentages do not clock at anywhere close to a 100%. Not to mention the convenient simultaneous convergence of all of her male friends in the exact same location just as she needs their support before the final showdown. Beth seems extremely lucky to have the support of so many fellow players, but that can in part be attributed to their fascination with her astounding gameplay.

     Given the limited run-time of the series, Beth’s character has been fleshed out well. Portrayed in a career – defining performance by Anya – Taylor Joy, who was seen in Split, the character goes through the trials and tribulations of a substance addict, who also loses two families over the course of the show. Her need to be loved plays right into the hands of her addiction, but she is not one to pine for someone’s love. She seems indifferent to romantic affection, and tends to medicate or binge to fill the void of intimacy in her life. It is only when she visits her mentor Mr. Shaibel’s basement that she fully comprehends the sense of love and loss. It compels her to pull herself out of her mess and focus on the upcoming competition. I felt that this was portrayed meaningfully.

     We see the protagonist grappling with her substance abuse, albeit with varying levels of difficulty throughout the show, which seems like an accurate representation of addicts, who go through varying levels of the binge, purge and possible relapse process. But when she decides to let go of her performance enhancing tranquilizers in an instant, it feels oversimplified. There is nothing that really clicks, like an epiphany of sorts. Although she receives verbal and emotional support from her friends in those regards, the point when she simply flushes her pills to eventually beat Borgov using her visualization techniques seems contrived. Quite like Captain Marvel or the Incredible Hulk regaining their powers as they did in their respective MCU movies, because ‘ they always had it in them ‘. Another predictable trope. 

     The Queen’s Gambit is overall a well made show, with its pace and storyline making it a fun binge watch over the weekend. It may not compel one to beg the creators for a spinoff, but it may at the very least make you get your hands on the nearest chess set available. I’d give it an 8 out of 10.