I made my Olympic dream come true competing for Pakistan: Norman Brinkworth

July 03, 2022

Hartmut Paeffgen, a sports scribe from Mainz, Germany, reporting in a leading Pakistani newspaper on June 18, 1972, wrote 'When Norman Brinkworth ran the 400 meters for the first time this year on...

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Hartmut Paeffgen, a sports scribe from Mainz, Germany, reporting in a leading Pakistani newspaper on June 18, 1972, wrote "When Norman Brinkworth ran the 400 meters for the first time this year on the artificial turf track in Bonn (Federal Republic of Germany) he was satisfied with his time of 49.9 seconds".

He wrote that the 27-year-old athlete from Lahore, who was placed third in the high hurdles at the Asian Games in Bangkok with a time of 53.2 seconds, believed that he could run at least 2 seconds faster in a stronger field of runners. This he wanted to do six weeks before the XXth Olympic Games in Munich where the qualifying trials for the 400-meter run would be held.

Norman Brinkworth, a Pakistani of Anglo-Indian origin, was a natural middle-distance runner who excelled on the tracks in his school days in Lahore. He toiled hard to become Pakistan's national champion in the 400 meters hurdles. He was tall, lean, and supple, but sturdy on his legs, a prerequisite to run and negotiate hurdles. It is one of the most spectacular track events.

Since inception, Pakistan has had many promising athletes but who competed rarely at the international level due to lack of patronage and paucity of funds.

Most athletes competed in local meets in ordinary track and field conditions and rarely got the opportunity to compete against stronger competition at foreign venues.

Athletes like Brinkworth and sprinter John Permal were star performers in the 1960s and the 1970s, when to a certain degree, athletics in Pakistan was an attractive option. The National Games and National Athletic Championships held every two years, were well attended, and covered extensively on the sports pages of national newspapers. Athletics in Pakistan is now on the backburner. One hardly reads about track and field athletes and their exploits.

In the earlier years of Pakistan athletics, the 1950s and 1960s, known as the Golden Years of Pakistan Athletics, our athletes brought home many international laurels, even though they did not have access to advanced training facilities. The tartan track (hard rubber, all weather surface) which was first used in the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, was laid in Islamabad in 1978 for the proposed Asian Games which didn't take place and were shifted to Bangkok.

Norman Brinkworth was part of a group of athletes from Pakistan in the late 1960s and 1970s who did well at the Asian level. Norman won the bronze medal at the 1970 Bangkok Games after which they toured and competed in European cities. Both he and Permal were part of the Pakistan contingent for the 1971 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games and later took part in several meets in Germany (Mainz, Dusseldorf, Stuttgart, and Bonn) leading to the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.

When Norman went to Germany, he found the training facilities to his liking and chose to stay back to get acclimatised to the conditions and compete with world class athletes. However, his dilemma was that he didn't have any backing and neither the funds to pay for his accommodation and training. He had to fend for himself. But Brinkworth was a talented athlete and lucky to have met Professor Dr. Benno Wischmann, one of Germany's most important trainers and Director of the Sports Institute at the University of Mainz. He said to him, "You can train with us" and helped the Pakistani athlete finish his education at the University and get a room in the dormitory of the German Track & Field Association. Brinkworth was elated.

He acquired employment as a mechanic. He says, "I earned very well, about 100 DM per month but work was difficult, I had to be on duty eight hours a day, and train after work."

The German sportswriter Hartmut Paeffgen wrote in his article in 1972, "Though Norman is often tired from his daily work, he trains with an iron will with the top athletes of the German Track & Field Association or alone for two or three hours everyday."

The athlete from Lahore was determined to compete for Pakistan and paid for his training to represent his country. He says, "Pakistan was my priority, I trained hard to make sure that my country was represented in athletics at the Olympic Games."

His efforts did not go to waste. He succeeded in getting a 'wild card' to run for Pakistan in the men's 400 meters hurdles, his favourite event. Though he was tipped to spring a surprise performance, it was not his day. He lost in the qualifying heat with a time of 54.67 secs, which was below his Asian and personal best.

The 400 meters hurdles race at the 1972 Munich Olympics was won by John Akii-Bua of Uganda with a world-record time of 47.82 secs, Ralph Mann of the USA got the silver medal with 48.51 secs and David Hemery of the UK the bronze medal with a time of 48.52 secs. Others in the race included James Seymour 48.64 secs (USA), Rainer Schuburt 49.65 secs (West Germany), Yevgeny Gavrilenko 49.66 secs (URS), Stavros Tziortzis 49.66 secs (Greece) and Yuri Zorin 50.25 secs (URS).

Brinkworth ran in Round 1, Heat 2 which included David Hemery 49.92 secs (UK) and Yuri Zorin 50.35 secs (URS) both qualifying for the final. The Pakistan athlete clocked 54.67 secs, even though his German coach believed there was a possibility that Brinkworth could have made it to the last eight of the Olympic final. Recalling his memorable participation, he says, "I tried my best, but I was happy and proud to see that Pakistan was represented at the games."

Norman Brinkworth is now living with his family in Belgium and will turn 80 soon. He misses his days in Lahore, fellow-athletes, and friends in Pakistan. He wishes track and field athletes in Pakistan the best in their careers and advises the sports authorities to send talented athletes abroad for training under expert coaches. "I am sure some day they will bring home a medal in track and field for Pakistan."

Brinkworth trained regularly in Lahore, and the Railway and YMCA grounds whenever in Karachi, but he says, "I preferred to train in Lahore because of the delicious home-made food of my mother, she was a fantastic cook."

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