The Golden Age of Pakistani Athletics: The 50s and the 60s

August 30, 2020

You may not believe but there was a time when athletes from Pakistan competed against the best of the world

The famous Five: from L to R : Ghulam Raziq Mohammad Iqbal, Ayub Khan, Abdul Khaliq, Mohammad Nawaz. Standing in the background is Mubarak Shah.

Athletics is an almost forgotten entity in Pakistan today. This is sad because for much of the 1950s and ‘60’s Pakistan was a regional force in the sport. Pakistani athletes competed with distinction in different track and field events in tournaments across the globe.

The three most important competitions were the Olympic Games, the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games, which were originally known as the British Empire and Commonwealth Games.

The exploits of the men who were at the forefront of this golden period of our athletics history make interesting reading.

Heroes of the Track

The most famous name in Pakistani track history is that of Subedar Abdul Khaliq. Born in Jhand, in the Chakwal district, in 1933, this sprinter put Pakistan on the international athletics map. In the 1954 Asian Games in Manila, he won the 100 meters event in a time of 10.6 seconds, beating the previous record of 10.8 seconds held by Lavy Pinto of India. He also led Pakistan to a silver medal in the 4x100 meters relay.

Chief Guest Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister, dubbed him “The Flying Bird of Asia”.

In the 1956 Indo-Pak athletics meet at Delhi, Khaliq won the 100 metres in a record Asian time of 10.4 seconds and also triumphed in the 200 metres, again in a record Asian time of 21.4 seconds.

Khaliq made it to the semi-final of the 100 metres in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics where he came fourth in his race, with only the first three qualifying for the final from that particular race.

Abdul Khaliq on the victory stand - 1958, Asian games, Tokyo.

In the 200 metres, he was tipped to win a medal after being the second fastest of all the runners in the heats with a time of 21.1 seconds. Sadly, he was again fourth in his semi-final race and could not progress further.

Khaliq helped Pakistan reach the semi-finals in the 4x100 metres relay as well.

In the 1958 Asian Games at Tokyo, Khaliq retained his 100 metres crown and won silver in the 200 metres when he was pipped at the tape by Milkha Singh of India. Khaliq also anchored Pakistan to a bronze medal in the 4x100 meters relay.

Khaliq represented Pakistan in multiple international events, winning a total of 63 medals, 36 of them gold.

Khaliq was a prisoner of war in India in 1971. In recognition of his athletic achievements, the Indian government offered to release him but Khaliq turned down the offer, refusing any preferential treatment.

Ghulam Raziq

Another soldier, he was the next big track star after Khaliq.

Born in 1932, Raziq, who belonged to the Jhelum district, was a hurdler who specialised in the 110 meters hurdles event.

He performed with distinction in the Asian Games winning the gold medal in 1958 and 1966 and a silver in 1962.

In the Commonwealth Games, he won medals at three successive games: gold in 1962 in Perth and bronze medals in 1958 in Cardiff and 1966 in Kingston.

In the Olympics, Raziq made it to the semi-finals in 1956 and 1960. In the 1960 Rome Olympics, he was involved in a photo finish for the third place in his semi-final round and missed out on a finals place by a whisker.

Raziq won multiple medals for Pakistan at international level, including the World Military Games.

Mubarak Shah

Mubarak Shah – leading in the 3000 meters steeplechase, 1958 Asian games, Tokyo.

Mubarak was born in 1930 in the Rawalpindi district and like Khaliq and Raziq served in the Pakistan army. Mubarak was a long distance runner and in the 1958 Asian Games at Tokyo he won the 3000 metres steeplechase and was placed second in the 10,000 metres. In the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta he retained his 3000 meters steeplechase crown in a Games record time of 8 minutes 57.8 seconds.

Switching from the 10000 meters to the shorter distance of 5000 metres, he won a gold medal in that event as well and in the process set another new Games record of 14 minutes 27.2 seconds.

Pakistan had other track stars as well in this golden age. Mohammad Sharif Butt was a sprinter who won the 200 metres gold medal for Pakistan in the 1954 Asian Games while Khawaja Mohammad Aslam won silver in the same event. These games also saw Mirza Khan of Pakistan claim the gold medal in the 400 metres hurdles. Mohammad Yusuf won a silver medal in the marathon in the 1962 Asian Games.

Heroes of the Field: The Throwers and  the Jumpers

Mohammad Iqbal

Born in 1929, Subedar Mohammad Iqbal is the most renowned hammer thrower in Pakistan’s history. He qualified for the finals in both the 1956 and 1960 Olympics, finishing 11th and 12th respectively.

He had podium finishes in three successive Asian Games, starting with a silver in the 1954 Manilla Games, to be followed by a gold medal in Tokyo in 1958 and a bronze medal finish at Jakarta in 1962. His winning throw of 60.96 metres in Tokyo in 1958 was an Asian Games record at the time.

Iqbal participated in four consecutive Commonwealth Games. In the 1954 Games at Vancouver he won the gold medal and followed this with a silver at Cardiff in 1958. He missed out on a medal in 1962 but finished with a bronze at Kingston in 1966 at the ripe age of 39 years.

Iqbal won laurels for Pakistan at multiple international meets, including the World Military Games.

Mohammad Nawaz

Yet another army man, Nawaz was born in 1924 and brought many medals to Pakistan. He won gold medals in javelin throw in the 1954 and 1958 Asian Games with throws that set a new games record on each occasion. In the 1962 Asian Games, at the age of 38 years, he was good enough to be the silver medal winner.

In the Commonwealth Games, he came second in Vancouver in 1954 and twelve years later, amazingly, at the age of 42, won a bronze medal in the 1966 games in Kingston.

He also qualified for the final of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics where he finished 14th.

Like his fellow soldiers, Nawaz won many honours at the World Military Games and many other international tournaments.

Jalal Khan

Born in 1927, Jalal was another very good javelin thrower who lived in Nawaz’s shadow. He won the bronze medal in the 1954 Commonwealth Games and silver four years later in 1958.

In the Asian Games, he won silver medals, behind Nawaz, in 1954 and 1958. Yet another army man, Jalal also performed with distinction in Military Games and other meets.

Allah Ditta

Allah Ditta was a pole vaulter who was born in 1932 in a small Kashmiri village. He came to the fore in the 1958 Asian Games at Tokyo where he won the bronze medal. All three medal winners cleared the bar at the same height of 4.20 metres, a new games record. The placings were decided by the number of attempts taken to clear this height.

Allah Ditta followed this with a fourth position at the 1958 Commonwealth Games. He won another bronze medal in the 1962 Asian Games and bowed out with an 8th place finish in the Commonwealth Games of 1962.

Ramzan Ali

Born in 1932, Ramzan Ali was primarily a long jumper who won bronze medals for Pakistan in the 1958 Asian Games and the 1958 Commonwealth Games. Interestingly, he was also a member of the bronze-winning 4x100 metres relay team in the ‘58 Asian Games and also represented Pakistan in the triple jump in the 1956 Olympics. Like so many of his contemporaries in Pakistani athletics Ramzan also belonged to the Pakistan army.

Mohammad Ayub, an officer in the Pakistan army, represented the country in the discus throw event in many athletic tournaments from 1954 to 1966.

He won a silver medal in this category in the 1958 Asian Games at Tokyo. These games also saw Malik Noor winning a bronze medal in hammer throw.

Pakistani athletics has been in steady decline for decades now. Barring the occasional medal, its cupboard of awards and trophies has been largely empty. A ready indicator of our decaying standards is that in a sport where records established today are history in a few years at most, many national Pakistani records date back to the 70’s, still unchallenged, over forty years after they were set.

Dr Salman Faridi is a senior surgeon, poet, sports aficionado and an avid reader with a private collection of over 7000 books [email protected]

The Golden Age of Pakistani Athletics: The 50s and the 60s