Sixty Five years ago ON THIS DAY, Alfred Hitchcock released REAR WINDOW to the world !

Rear  Window (Directed  by Alfred Hitchcock – Starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly and Thelma Ritter)

A  photojournalist L.B. Jeffries (played by James Stewart) is confined to his tiny courtyard apartment after breaking his leg on duty. To pass the time the binocular-wielding Jeffries stares through the rear window of his apartment at the goings-on in the other apartments around his courtyard.  As he watches his neighbors, he assigns them names such as “Miss Torso” (for a ballet dancer), Ms.Lonely Hearts (for a middle aged spinster), etc

The movie  has aged very well and is memorable for the ravishing presence of Grace Kelly who plays Lisa Carol Fremont, a famous socialite-cum-fashion model, Hitchcock’s quintessential icy, cool  blonde with a fire glowing within, who wants Jeff to put a stop to his wander lust and settle down in a nice soft job specializing in fashion portraits and marry her. She courses  through the movie like a surreal apparition – truly a princess before she actually became Her Royal Highness of Monaco.  With the sleuthing premise in the foreground, it’s the different stories of love which go on in the various apartments which is the movie’s real focus – the love of the childless elderly couple for their pet dog, the travails of the newly married couple, the unrequited love of a middle aged spinster “Ms.Lonely Hearts”, the struggling bachelor musician and his love of music, the comely dancer “Ms. Torso” juggling predatorial  paramours itching to score with her while all the time she’s pining for her true love who stays  out of town.

Ironically the movie uses the limitation of  space to unshackle the imagination and breaks new ground in cinematic possibilities.





Zola’s Note :

Sunil Gavaskar was controversy’s child. He wrote his autobiography, ‘Sunny Days’,  at the ripe “old” age of 26 and the book was an instant best seller. He confessed that apart from the fact that at that time he was the media’s blue eyed boy, the book’s success  was more due to its controversial contents than the subject matter.

For instance, in one chapter he mentions that he wasn’t in the least impressed by the Lord’s cricket ground – a place that any Indian cricket fanatic would  die to visit. This naturally caused a stir but he has never deviated from that view  to this day.

The ground slopes from one end to the other.  And on one occasion, after England were trailing miserably,  rain came to the rescue and  promptly  Ray Illingworth (captain of England) and  left arm spinner Derek Underwood exploited the conditions  and spun the opposition out of the game…….by having Underwood bowl towards  the slope which soaked up the rain !


My friend Ram Murali was recently in England on a business trip and seized the chance to visit the “Vaikundam” of cricket.


Check out the details of his “darshan” :


Ram Murali blogs at :



(This is a piece I wrote for my son’s elocution class in the Sixth grade)

Let me  tell you a true story which happened more than 70 years ago.

Once upon a time in America, a young cartoonist was walking back to his hotel room dejected and depressed. He had produced a series of cartoon films about a rabbit which was popular. He hoped to get more money from his distributor but to his shock and dismay he found that the distributor had cheated him of the rights to the cartoon films.

However, the cartoonist was made of sterner stuff. He set about creating another character. As he sketched on the drawing board, a friendly mouse whom he called Mortimer sat on his shoulder and watched him draw.

“That’s it! “, he exclaimed. “I’ll call my character Mortimer mouse!” he said. But his friend told him that  the name Mortimer was too long and not catchy enough. So he named his character Mickey Mouse. And THAT’s how Mickey Mouse was born. The young cartoonist was none other than …………Walt Disney.


Walter Elias Disney was born on December 5th, 1901 in a small farm in Kansas.

It was on the farm that Walt developed a love for animals and started drawing them. Years later when he produced his cartoon films, he recalled  how each animal behaved in vivid detail, for example, the way a hunting dog sniffed around a tree, and he acted it out for his animators. Whenever the animators were in doubt they remembered how Walt acted out the animals’ actions and  created their drawings accordingly.

When he was 16 years old, he became an ambulance driver in World War I and was stationed in France. He was assigned to a military canteen in Neufchateau, where he soon used his artistic skills, earning extra money by painting fake medals onto leather jackets and  camouflaging German helmets so that they could be passed off as snipers’ helmets.


After the war ended, his father had a job waiting for him but Walt was determined to make a career in commercial art and moved to Kansas City. He entered the field of animated cartoons which was still in its infancy. At the age of 19 he became the chairman of his own company called the Laugh-O-Gram Corporation This company  produced short 5 minute cartoons which were called Laugh-O-Grams.


He soon progressed to making modern versions of fairy tales which became very popular. He was also a genius at combining excellent music with cartoon action. The song “Who’s Afraid  of The Big Bad Wolf ?” in the cartoon, “Three Little Pigs”, was a huge hit which swept the entire nation off its feet. In the years that followed, with each cartoon he made, he surpassed all his previous achievements.


This was known as the Golden Age of Animation which saw the first cartoon with sound, the first  cartoon  made in color and the first full length cartoon film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.


(Steam Boat Willie – The First cartoon with Sound)

Snow White was an ambitious and daring project. Many critics said that this film would finish his career once and for all. Mid way through the making of  “Snow White”, he ran out of money. His brother Roy Disney insisted that the parts of the film completed so far be shown to a team of bankers so that they could raise money to complete the film.



Walt was against showing the incomplete film to outsiders but he had no choice. Therefore, he arranged a screening of the film for the bankers. He  became anxious  when the bankers seemed bored by the film and did not respond to the beautiful Snow White and the comedy of the seven dwarfs. In fact one banker let out a big yawn. When Walt saw this his stomach turned to ice and he became more nervous.

After the screening, the banker who yawned didn’t show any reaction. He looked at Walt with a curious look and said “ You’ve got  a great movie here, Walt. It’s going to be a Gold Mine.” When Disney heard this he was ecstatic. Sure enough, Snow White became a smash hit and has thrilled generations of movie goers.

Walt  also had a long cherished dream of creating a theme park where adults would have as much fun as children. This dream took shape in the form of Disney Land, something which people had never experienced before such as a submarine ride and Cinderella’s castle. It was an architectural marvel far ahead of its time.

This was followed by Disneyworld and  EPCOT center which is  a futuristic city. It offers a glimpse into how people would live in the distant future.


Walt Disney died in the year 1966 but his dreams live on. He left behind a rich legacy of beloved cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and  Pinochchio and evergreen films like Snow White and The Jungle Book.  Walt Disney is still a source of inspiration for millions around the world.



“If you go through this door now without revising Section 132 you’re walking into a wall of trouble…………… You understand ?”


“Yes  I do”


“Good !!”


“Give me that  axe !”


Some readers may recall how I went about preparing for the CA Intermediate exam. If you don’t, do me a favour and please check  out the epilogue of the article in this link.

My friend Shyam (name changed) and I were the last in our batch to pass the Intermediate.

Having passed the exam we again lapsed into our lackadaisical ways when our more proactive classmates were already through the final exam and in the placement zone.

After passing the intermediate the Institute of Chartered Accountants gives you a one metre thick bunch of study materials comprising all the subjects. Any chapter could be removed from the “mother ship” so that if one wants to study a particular chapter, you don’t have to hold the entire bunch.

“Now that you’ve passed CA Inter, go and collect your CA Final study materials………………and use it as a pillow” was the helpful advice of my friend Vijai (name retained). If you want to know Vijai better, again, do me a favour, and check out the link below.


I followed that advice to the T  with the result that I was  left wringing my hands when the day of judgement drew near.

Again Shyam and I regrouped to tackle this new menace.

This time the joint study operation was not conducted at my home but at the CA institute library.


Did I say “Joint study” ?  If there was any studying done I was the one who was doing it.

Even in the era before cell phones, while waiting inside the CA institute library, Shyam mysteriously knew when he had visitors outside  and excused himself umpteen times to go out of the library and have tea with the visitor at the  tea stall outside the institute next to the 29C bus stop.

The portions were voluminous and just wouldn’t get through my head. I’d navigated  taxation pretty well in the intermediate but the final portions were a different  kettle of fish altogether.

Shyam never lost his supreme sense of assurance.


“Machcheee……….” he said with the quiet confidence of a  Usain Bolt, his eyes half closed as if delivering the Sermon on the Mount.

“Kandippaa indha dhadavai Search and Seizure varudhu. Adha padichchaa poadhum” he declared.

(“Definitely  a question on Search and Seizure Sec.132 will be asked this time. Just read that and go for the exam”)

I let that  nugget of information sink in.

The note on Search and Seizure was less than one page but it was so dense and complex nothing would register no matter how many times I studied it.

Shyam reiterated his admonition not once but several times after that particular day.

I soldiered on but to no avail.


Come the day of the exam and I was nervous and frightful. A substantial part of my nails were gone and with it some skin and flesh too.

I don’t recall if the taxation exam was the last one but it seemed like the deciding play off.


Now there was another friend of mine, Nitin (name changed) who was the type who would sincerely read the nook and corner of every chapter in the book.

As per the seating arrangement, Nitin and I were placed in the same examination room. And just a row apart.

The unsystematic guys like yours truly were boning up on the chapters frantically upto the time we were due to enter the exam hall while the sincere Sivamanis like Nitin were blasé about the whole thing.


I told Nitin about Shyam’s prediction on Sec.132 Search and Seizure.

Nitin was dismissive and waved off that foolishness with “Adhellaam chanceay illa – varavay varaadhu” (“No way a question from that topic will come in the exam”).

After what Nitin had said I gave up and braced myself  for my next attempt at the exam six months later.

A random thought struck me….a recording in my memory from  a few years ago.

 “Dont WAIT for it to happen”

“Dont even WANT it to happen”

“Jusht WATCH……………..

when it DOES HAPPEN”

It seemed to  take care of my nerves and  fidgeting.

I sighed and paused to drop my bag outside the examination room and took a deep breath.

My mind cleared somewhat…..actually it was  as BLANK as a white wall.


Then something else struck me.

I had this typical bourgeois mind set that if I did not know the answers I didn’t deserve to pass.

Not that I had NOT studied but it just wouldn’t enter my head.


I harked back to the ICWA Final Examination taxation paper.

I’d prepared very well for that one.

But after entering the examination hall and looking at the paper I kept staring at it for more than half an hour. My friend  Bala (name changed)  was seated  next to me and he was in a daze too.

Then I determined to make a good fist of it and  after I started scribbling some answers, ideas started expanding like a bullet in my head.

Actually I was at my creative best.

With due respect to Arun Jaitley, P.Chidambaram and other legal stalwarts and finance ministers, I did a great job of  creating my own Wealth Tax Act and Gift Tax Act !!

My friend, Bala, watched me for sometime  and was livid.

“Dei !! Yennadaa yezhudhara ?”  he asked in a shocked hoarse whisper.

(What are you writing ??!!)

What could I tell him ?


To cut a long story short, I cleared THAT paper.




Just a minute before entering the CA Final examination hall, I again took out the portion of the study material on Search and Seizure and   read  through that damned Section 132.

It seemed to stick in my brain on this reading. I kept it back in my bag, flung it to one corner and finally entered the hall.


 I was uncharacteristically casual even after the question paper was dropped by the invigilator at my table.

But one look at it and I was anything but casual………………


Actually I was cockahoop with joy !

Sure enough a question on Search and Seizure was included in the question paper…………………………….



I muddled through the rest of the tough paper.


When the results came out in January, my mark sheet showed that I’d been given

 EXACTLY 40  MARKS in taxation.

 I had  PASSED !!

And if not for that infernal Search and Seizure (Section 132 of the Income Tax Act) I’d have failed by a wide margin.

I was now a qualified Chartered Accountant and ready for the job market………and marriage market 🙂 🙂




Nitin didn’t clear the exam.

(And surprisingly) Neither did my “guide”, Shyam.

(Actually not so surprising considering his umpteen tea time visits)

On getting to know the result Shyam’s mother was bitterly sarcastic “(Sigh) Adhukellaam Bhagavaanoada  anugraham  venumdaa !”

(“To pass in the CA exam one needs the Nuclear umbrella like protective shield and all pervading grace of the Lord”)

Shyam’s response was typical of his cocksure demeanour.

 “Bhagavaanoada anugraham ellaam vayndaam ……..Portions padichchaa poadhum”

(“No need for bullet proof shield….its sufficient to read the portions systematically”)

(Here  endeth  the  Lesson)






Ilyas Babar

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION of the Indian Express




NORRIS PRITAM : Aug 08, 2002


(Zola’s note)

DID YOU KNOW that  in the Golden Age of Indian Athletics,

Sriram Singh’s time for the 800 m in the 1976 Montreal Olympics  would have won him a Gold medal in the preceding Olympics in Munich and a Silver medal in the subsequent Olympics in Moscow ?


DID YOU KNOW that before the Olympics he had NEVER run on a  synthetic track…….EVER ?


DID YOU KNOW that  Shivnath Singh ran barefoot in the 1976 Montreal Olympics and finished Eleventh ? His subsequent National Record timing would have got him a Medal in the finals of every Olympics from 1972 to 1980.


These two gentlemen and other such champions were coached by Ilyas Babar



July 16, 1976, was a hot, humid evening. A local athlete and I were sitting with coach Ilyas Babar at a shanty tea-stall in New Delhi’s Nizamuddin basti. Babar sahib, as we used to call him out of respect, was a regular at the shop.


Most of us had spent our evenings there with him, sipping hot tea and savouring some of the best kebabs in town. That day was no different.


But suddenly, Babar sahib turned pensive. We knew he was missing his favourite trainee, Sriram Singh, who had left a few days ago to participate in the 800 metres in the Montreal Olympics.

‘‘What do you think Sriram will do in Montreal,’’ Babar sahib asked us. We mumbled a bit and, not wanting to hurt his feelings, said he would run under one minute and 47 seconds for the national record.


‘‘Are you mad?’’ retorted Babar sahib. ‘‘He will run one minute and 45 seconds and win the gold.’’ It sounded like a joke but we still suggested that he go to Montreal to be with Sriram. He brushed aside our suggestion and we wrapped up the evening with some more kebabs and tea.


The next evening, we met Babar sahib at National Stadium and we requested him again to join Sriram,


Again, he rejected the idea. But on July 18, five days before Sriram was to run his first heat, Babar sahib expressed his desire to go to Montreal—with no passport and money in hand. As our luck would have it, Jagat Mehta was then the Foreign Secretary. And we knew his son Ajay, a 400 metres runner.


We met Mehta early in the morning and ensured that Babar sahib got his passport before the office shut for lunch. He left for Montreal that night. His luggage contained one change and 100 leaves of paan.


July 24 was the D-day when Sriram stood at the start of the 800 metres final with Babar sahib in the stands. He led from the front and clocked an astonishing one minute 45.77 seconds for the seventh spot.


While the whole of India rejoiced at Sriram’s Asian record-setting race, Babar sahib was crestfallen. He was back home in two days. ‘‘Sriram should have won the medal,’’ was all he said. His prediction was based on his own conviction and confidence in Sriram. What could be a bigger tribute to him than the words of Alberto Juantorena, the Cuban gold medallist of the 800 metres? ‘‘I broke the world record because of Singh,’’ was his first comment after the race.


A month before the Montreal Games, Sriram was training in Delhi. The monsoon had set in and there was no dry spot to run on. Babar sahib used the lawns on both sides of Rajpath for endurance running and the grassy stretch of hockey field outside National Stadium for sprints.


In one session Sriram often ran 100 repetitions of 100 metres. Some of his contemporary run-of-the-mill coaches called Babar sahib ‘‘mad’’ and Sriram a victim of ‘‘wrong training’’. But again, a foreign hand put it in right perspective. The great New Zealand long distance coach, Arthur Lydiard, had been following Sriram’s career and justified Babar sahib’s methods. He said in fact, Sriram had the fastest basic speed among the top 800 metres runners in the world then. What he lacked was endurance, and suggested more mileage for him.


In some ways, Babar sahib was like another great distance running coach, Australia’s Percy Cerruti—misunderstood and underestimated. He obtained his diploma from the National Institute of Sports (NIS) in 1961 along with other stalwarts of Indian athletics like Ken Bosen, C M Muthiah, J S Saini and Jagmohan Singh.


A commerce graduate from Osmania University, Babar sahib did a coaching stint in Secunderabad before shifting to Delhi. He joined the Rajputana Rifles Centre where he picked up Sriram. Under his tutelage, several national and Asian champions emerged even before Sriram stepped on the track—B S Barua, Charles Borromeo, Bajrang Ram, Harlal Singh, Dasrath Singh, Ram Narayan Singh…


To beat the Delhi heat in summers, Babar sahib would take his trainees to the sand dunes at Okhla on the bed of the Yamuna river. He would reach there before dawn, sometimes by 3 a.m. After the training sessions, it was time for breakfast for which he almost always paid for every one. At the age of 60, he pedalled along with athletes training for marathon.

(Contrast this with the Indian officials in Rio who weren’t even present at the drinks stall to help our athletes)


Babur sahib never went along with the Amateur Athletics Federation of India. At the time of the Asian Games in Bangkok in 1970, Sriram had just emerged as a potential top runner, but wasn’t chosen among the probables for the Asian Games. All pleas to include him in the team were futile because AAFI wanted Sriram to leave Babar sahib and train under NIS coaches. Ultimately, the federation sent in his entry for the 4×400 metres relay. He reached Bangkok much later than the rest of the team members.


But in view of his form, he was made to run in the 800 metres where he won a silver medal. Babar sahib proved his point but paid the price—he wasn’t included in the panel of national coaches.


Babar sahib was out of a job after his contract with the Raj Rif ran out three years ago. But the SAI never thought it fit to appoint him. He made several rounds from Hyderabad to Delhi. Just ten days before his death, he was in Delhi again.


Perhaps, it was a premonition—he visited Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium and met athletes and coaches. He was cheerful despite his poor health and the financial burden.


He left Delhi with the promise of coming back, but never did.




Yuri Borzhakovskiy 1

Vyacheslav Yevstratov took one look at his ward’s eyes and went wild with rage. He felt a hot stab in his abdomen – similar to the anxiety of a  new mother multiplied hundredfold on seeing her  baby in distress


“Get back  and start your warm up !!” he yelled.


One look at ‘Yura’s’ eyes and Vyacheslav knew that his athlete was severely short of sleep – the fatigue toxins would kick in sooner than later and he could kiss goodbye to his medal prospects. The lad had  drifted all around Sydney before realizing it was perilously close to reporting time. He had pretty much shot himself in the foot – the Olympics take place only once in four years and even with a formidable line up in the 800 m final such as Andre Bucher the European champion, Glody Dube and Nils Schuman, Yuriy Borzakovskiy (nickname Yura) was the European 800 m Indoor champion and had the potential to  cause  an upset.


Oh and there was also another chappie in the final line up, the  world record holder, Wilson Kipketer of Denmark who had emigrated from Kenya to Denmark when in college but had never won an Olympic medal having missed the prior Olympics in Atlanta, 1996 as he was not a full Danish citizen and hence debarred by the International Olympic Committee.


After his anger subsided,  Vyacheslav the coach, sighed and resigned himself to planning for the next Olympics in Athens. Yura went through the more than hour long pre-race routine designed by Yevstratov for his middle distance athletes which began with a super slow 3 km jog, a dynamic stretch routine ending with iron crosses on the grass floor, progressive ladder repeats from 100 m to 300 m to ensure the muscles wouldn’t lock fast when making the excruciating transition from static to kinetic energy.


The warm up routine ended with repeating incantations drawn from various faiths across the world while at the starting block so that the athlete would go into a pseudo meditative state just before the starting gun went off.

Glody Dube from Botswana was in lane 1 he had done well for his fledgling country to come this far and exhaled a blast of air to control his nervousness.  In lane 3 was Wilson Kipketer slowly rotating and stretching the muscles around the neck and shoulder blades, eyes fiercely closed in total concentration, wanting to shut out the world till the call to the starting blocks.


In lane 4 was Andre Bucher, the World  800 m champion at the Edmonton games. In lane 2 was Nils Schuman, the German,  who had made the finals of the World Championship prior to  this Olympics and  a major threat but who had never won a big one.


In lane 8 (the outer most lane) was Yuriy Borzakovskiy (Yura)


Would Schuman push Kipketer to an Olympic record ?


Would  Bucher take it out ?

Would Wilson Kipketer , the world record holder, finally… FINALLY win the 800 m Olympic Gold medal ?

The gun went off and after the initial 100 m dash within their respective lanes the athletes jockeyed for positions. At the 200 metre mark  it became clear that no one wanted to dictate the pace – it wasnt going to be a fast race but a tactical one.

Trailing a good 15 m behind the others was Yuriy Borzakovskiy. He always ran a level split race which meant that the time for the 2nd half would be the same as the first half unlike the others who would run a negative split, meaning a faster first half and a more torturous but slower second half trusting the adrenaline to kick in after their hamstrings had kicked out.

“Nobody wants to dictate the pace !  Dear Oh Dear! Are they playing into the hands of the young Russian  !” waxed the commentator.


On hearing this Vyacheslav, inspite of his disappointment, allowed himself a sardonic smile. “Playing into the  hands of the young Russian, my foot” he sniggered to himself.


Yura liked to run well away from the pack not due to tactical reasons but  due to a hangover from his younger days – he wanted to avoid getting jabbed in the ribs or tripped  by violent competitors.


The genesis of this lay in his first inter school 600m contest where he was kicked and fell hard on the track with blood spurting from his nose. He responded  in the next edition of the meet by creating a record for the event at 1m 53 s in the Under  11 year old category.

Junior athletics was a brutal introduction to life with much jabbing,  shoving and kicking  – no quarter given and no mercy.

Borzakovskiy decided that this was how he was going to handle the grim stuff. He was a good enough 400 m runner,  good enough to represent the country in the 4 X 400 Relay and relied on his tremendous kick towards the end to make up for sandbagging the first half.

Vyacheslav’s thoughts darted  violently back to the race – all the runners descended into the home stretch bunched up together, including Borzakovskiy who had made splendid ground from the 550 m mark.
Ultimately in the last 50 metres, it was Nils Schuman who pipped the world record holder, Wilson Kipketer, to the post and took the gold.


Kipketer looked at the replay on the stadium’s large LCD screen , the humongous agony writ large on his face, unable to accept what had just taken place. For him, it was a missed chance to win the Olympic Holy Grail and he wasn’t getting any younger.
It was a slow race – all the athletes ran slower times in the final than they did in the heats and semi finals.
Kipketer wasn’t the only one who was hurting.

The result left a deep scar on  Yura too and he swore that starting from this day, he would focus all his energies to winning the gold at the next Olympics even if it meant missing out on  the Athletic World Championship held at Edmonton.


And on the NEXT occasion he would make it to the starting gate ON TIME for the warm up.

Early Life
Like the other boys of his age, Yuriy Borzakovskiy,(his first name was derived from the  cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin ( his last name means ‘greyhound’ in Russian)  wanted to become a professional footballer but his talent was soon commandeered by the neighbourhood athletic club, a relationship which he maintains to this day. While in the Olympic team in a spontaneous gesture he once donated his spikes to a junior runner,  a gesture which meant a lot to the greenhorn athlete.

He was good enough to make it to the 4X 400 Relay team but what set him apart was his capacity to run infinite miles, a legacy of the time spent in his native village of Zhukovskiy.

The unlikely combination of distance tolerance and the capacity to withstand the medieval torture called the 400m made him a natural for the 800m.

Going against the Russian stereotype he was not high spirited – more mellow and serious  to the point of being religious – he didn’t touch a drop of alcohol after his coach forbade it.


His idol was Steve Ovett but he was more Sebastian Coe, in that once having bought in completely to his coach’ s training philosophy he remained steadfast in his adherence to it.

While in the  Lviv  State Academy of Physical Culture in the Ukraine he had a poster of  Wilson Kipketer  the then World record holder on the wall by his hostel bed, the man wth whom he was now competing for the 800 m Olympic title.

He’d never started out with the idea of becoming a professional athlete. A welder by profession he soon figured he had other things going for him.


After the Sydney Olympic  misadventure, he won the World  indoor 800 m World Championship title.


Thereafter in the year 2001, he dipped below the 1:43 mark for the 800 m recording a blistering time of 1:42.47 thereby becoming the tenth fastest man over that distance.



The Dave Wottle strategy


Dave Wottle of the U.S.A got married in 1972 and promptly broke his knees.

He scraped through the Olympic trials and barely made it to the U.S Olympic team.

He had two formulas for personal success.


One, wearing his golf cap – to keep his long, untidy hair in place.

Two, hanging back behind the pack and then relying on his tremendous kick in the home stretch to catch up with the leaders.

He used this in the 1972 Munich Olympics, to come from behind and take the Gold and caused an upset, beating  his compatriot and the favourite, Yevgeny Argenev of Russia.

If Argeneve had won, he would have made history, becoming the first athlete from a non-English speaking country to win the  800 m men’s Olympic title.


Steve Ovett, a Borzhokovskiy idol, was highly skeptical of this strategy and made his views public.

“In a ‘1:45’ race, the tactic of hanging back may work. But in a fast race, like a ‘sub 1:44” it can be disastrous and suicidal”, he said.


Yuri Borzhakovskiy was an exponent of the Dave Wottle strategy, a dangerous one.


(Munich, 1972 – Dave Wottle edges out Yevgeny Argenev of Russia to win the Gold)



Athens, 2004


The 2004 Athens Olympics was a do or die for Wilson Kipketer – He was past thirty years of age and fading.

From the earlier edition in the year 2000, apart from Kipketer and Borzakovskiy, only  Djabir Said-Geurni  of Algeria remained,


This time Kipketer  was in Lane 6 and Yura  in Lane 4, a  strong  indication of how far  the latter had  come in the intervening period between Sydney, 2000 and Athens, 2004.


The first 100 m after the gun, Said-Guerni  led the pack, running  on the inside lane and Borzakovskiy ran behind the pack as usual.


As is his wont, Yura, noticing that the pace was slower than normal,  made his move……. this time  just before the finish of the first lap.

He went past Wilfred Bungei of Kenya at the 500 m mark and overtookg Said-Guerni at the 600 m mark.


At that point he was on the outer side of the leading pack of runners  with Kipketer firmly in second place behind Mulaudzi of South Africa.

Borzhakovskiy made tremendous ground from the 500 m mark and was strategically placed on the outside lane but not too far out…..just on the periphery to go past the leaders.


At the home stretch, Kipketer was in front, oblivious of Borzhokovskiy’s accelerated  snap and jerk   behind him, his neck baying back and forth like a race horse,  relentlessly closing out the lead between himself, Mulaudzi and Kipketer.


Kipketer had the finish line  in sight and leaned  forward  in anxious anticipation to  grab the Gold.


But Borzakovskliy like Dave Wottle before him in the Munich Olympics,, made up large ground, overtook Mulaudzi of South Africa,  and in one final blast,  neutralized   Kipketer’s finish and  breasted the tape to win  Russia’s first and only  Gold medal  in the men’s 800 m event at the Olympics.

It is ironic that  while Russia’s possible first 800 m (men’s)  Olympic Gold was thwarted by an American, (Dave Wottle, in the 1972 Munich Olympics), a Russian (Borzakovskiy) used the same strategy – a gutsy and  nail biting strategy,  to win Russia’s first 800 m (men’s) Olympic Gold.



Poor Wilson Kipketer……he had the finish line in sight in the home stretch but Borzhokovskiy  caught up with him…………………………and time.


The same year, Yuriy Borzakovskiy  was named Russia’s sportsman of the year.


His last name means ‘Greyhound’ in Russian………………………he sure ran like one.


(Athens 2004 – Yuriy Borzakovskiy  edges out  Kipketer to win the Gold)

Yuri Borzhakovskiy 2


Next Week : The Coach who Ran The Extra Distance





Dedicated to my friend, Vidya Mandir classmate and running guru, R.Srinivasan alias Cheeni alias Kopparai – a master strategist and tactician –  whether it is planning an 800 m / 1500 m race or planning for an Accountancy test !

His unique strides, running style  and the  way he kept checking  the positioning of  his competitors throughout the race was a treat to watch.

VM86 rocks !


“He ran like an idiot” his father replied. There were murmurs in the room as the scribes digested this. After a short time but which seemed like an eternity, the press conference came to an end.

Back in their room at the hotel, Sebastian Coe confronted his father. “Do you think it was really necessary to say that ? Damn right I blew it but words like “idiot” are the journalistic equivalent of hard currency. Any scribe who doesnt make hay out of THAT would be failing miserably in his profession”.

But Peter Coe was defensive and defiant. “There was no way I was going to let them think it was YOU who was running out there. I had to impress that on their minds”, he shot back at his son.

Just the day before, Sebastian Coe had lost what should have been at the very least an Olympic record breaking outing and had to be content with a silver, losing to compatriot Steve Ovett.

The United States boycott protesting the Soviet intrusion into Afghanistan cast a huge shadow over the Moscow Olympics bringing an abrupt and tragic end to the careers of many top athletes.

Therefore, the participation of England provided a lens to focus on  middle distance running, which is known as the blue riband event of athletics – where tactics and tactical response provide an absorbing mindgame to athletics watchers.

Sebastian Coe  was the 800 m world record holder. This was HIS race. The press created this rivalry between Ovett and Coe.

Going into Moscow Seb Coe was under immense pressure. The press and public had already anointed him the 800m Olympic champion.

Just a month ago he had broken Alberto Juantorena’s World Record in the Bislett games.

In contrast, Steve Ovett was the showman and surprisingly, the enfant terrible of the press.

This led to an ongoing  the Press versus Ovett battle and the fourth estate  was  therefore looking for a white knight to overthrow him.

Ovett  also had a self destructive streak  in that he tended to exult before the finish – in fact he lost the 5000 m at the Montreal Olympics by a 100th of a second simply because his more focused competitor ducked into the tape while Ovett was doing his celebratory antics before the finish line.  This was diametrically opposite to the  Gavaskaresque Coe who didn’t let up till it was well and truly in the bag.

Coe didnt want any part of this as the pressure of being the World record holder  by itself was difficult to handle.

The 800m is a physically demanding and mentally taxing,  tactical race where a moment’s miscalculation can spell death.

But the climactic build up to the 800m final and the intense pressure of expectation didnt do Coe’s nerves any good and his nervous energy drained when he needed it the most.

He didnt want to be running the media s race.

The 800m Final

Come D-day and Coe seemed listless while Ovett looked jocularly hungry. Both athletes made it to the finals in predictable fashion. There was the danger of a European upset in the form of the German Detlef Wagenknecht (the British press called him Detlef Wagonwheels).

As it happens when the stakes are the highest , none of the frontrunners were willing to dictate the momentum of the race preferring to wait for a pacemaker to materialize before making their individual move.

From the beginning, Coe was stuck on the outer most lane for the most part of the race which proved to be his undoing.

Around the 400 m mark, seconds before the bell,  Coe found himself  in that worst of predicaments – he was boxed in by the other runners and could barely get out of the ”ring fence”  let alone get within striking distance of the race leader.

By the time Coe got behind the leader, Ovett was firmly in the driver’ s seat with 150 m to go and maintained the lead breasting the tape first and taking the gold in an unexciting  timing of  1:46 – nowhere near the scorching 1:42 of the month before.

 The Agony

Rather than be crestfallen,  Coe seemed to be relieved.

One ordeal was over but he didnt know that a bigger ordeal was about to begin.

Years later while reminiscing about the loss he said ruefully “In the home stretch you cant give Steve O-Vest (sic) the space the size of a vest’s thickness. He’ ll simply get away and there’s nothing you can do about it”

Ovett was understandably over the moon. He now had a shot at the middle distance double. A feat achieved only by Peter Snell of New Zealand four Olympic Games  earlier and he was the World record holder in the 1500m  to boot.

Coe senior concluded that upping the training ante was probably not going to help. Already the papers which had put their white knight on a monstrously steep peak were writing his obituary.

Did he have what it takes to perform when the stakes were high ? Did he have the big match temperament ?

Lost and confused, Seb did the only thing he knew to get his mind away from the problem – go for a long 12 mile recovery run. But he found the reporters were following him there too.

With the 1500m heats round the corner, coach and athlete, father and son, came to some firm conclusions –

No more getting boxed in

It was just too dangerous.
The 1500

In the first 1500m heat, in  line with the new plan, Seb Coe ran an uncharacteristic race playing pacemaker with the sole aim of staying out of trouble i.e not getting boxed in. The first 300 m was done in a fast  42 seconds  before he finished  together with Vittorio Fontanella of Italy at 3:40.

In another heat, Ovett won comfortably in 3:36 tailing Nikolai Kirov of Russia for the most part.

In the first semifinal, the devil seemed to get back on Coe’s shoulder.

Juergen Straub of East Germany led for the most part of the race.  At the bell Coe was in second with Gonzales of Spain hot on his heels.

With 300 m to go, Coe didn’t respond  to the surge by Fontanella of Italy coming around on the outside to his right and  Juergen Straub to his left.

The very thing that father and son feared happened once again………………

Coe was boxed in !!

But he managed to extricate himself and get on course fast.

With 200 m to go, Coe ran fast and wide round the others practically executing a parabola before getting out in front. The course correction was swift but not before stopping a few heartbeats.

Coe Course Correction 1

Coe Course Correction 2

Coe Course Correction 3


Coe Course Correction 4


The last lap was done in a searing 53.50, in stark contrast to the general slowness of the race.

Coe senior’s expression was a mixture of helpless rage.

He  seemed to be saying “What the Hell are you trying to do to me?”
There was yet another problem.

Seb caught a stomach bug.

Even a minor discomfort is not welcome when you are trying to get your bearings.

The team doctor gave him a few pills “to close me up” he remembered with an embarrassed smile.

The next semi-final had the two Brits, Ovett and Steve Cram, racing together.

It was a very slow race with the clock showing  1:05 for the first 400 m. It ended predictably with Ovett looking like he was batting on a different wicket.

In the last 100m, with the other competitors going hell for leather to the finish line, Ovett, ever the showman, did a strange thing  getting into the home stretch  – he made some repeated gestures in sign language to his girlfriend watching on the telly back home.
“I sensed he was taunting fate” observed Seb.

Coe was slowly coming around to that desired state of mind where all an athlete wants to do is close out everything else, just get out there and run – period.

He was also getting his appetite back and enjoyed the good ol’ Sheffield home treatment – Roast beef, potatoes and Yorkshire pudding in ample quantity.

Soon after nature took its course and the stomach bug vanished as surreptitiously as it had made its appearance.

Before the semi-final he knew that the aggression which had deserted him a week ago was now coming back when he used appalling language at the guard stationed at the gate where the team bus was to pick them up before proceeding to the venue.

After the semifinal the papers were ambivalent and had their knives sharpened for the obituary. “Does Sebastian Coe have it in him to win this ?” and that sort of thing.

Journalist David Miller of the Gaurdian had a different view. The day before the final he wrote :

“If Sebastian Coe gets within striking distance of Steve Ovett on Sunday …….he will win


The Final

At the gun Straub of East Germany was in the inside with Coe bringing up the outside and Ovett tailing him, suffocatingly close.  Ovett was tracking Coe all the way – stalking was more like it.  Similar to the 800m final, the pace was  slow.

The Brits had all their ducks in a row –Coe, Ovett and Cram (Steve Cram – the baby of the British contingent and subsequent 1500m World Champion in 1982).

in the third and penultimate lap  Straub  did the competitors a favour by pulling away and dispersing the field to “make room”.

At the bell, Coe was still in second position behind Straub. With 300m to go Straub shifted gears and “kicked” again. But this time Coe was right  in position to respond and upped the ante.

With 120m to go, Coe quickly checked where everyone was for the last time and like a repelling magnet pulled away from Ovett even as Ovett began to close in on him with his lethal kick on the home stretch.

In the last 50 m, Coe didnt look back to check whether anyone was closing in on him for fear of being turned  into a pillar of salt and breasted the tape first in a time of 3:36.

But surprise of surprises, Straub ran the race of his life and edged out Ovett for the Silver.

The finish line read  Seb Coe – Juergen Straub  – and Steve Ovett for Gold , Silver and Bronze.

It was Ovett’s first defeat over the distance in a long time.

The last 100m was done in a blistering 12.1 seconds. Similar to a record breaking 800m effort.

The Ecstasy

After breasting the tape it was more relief than exultation. Coe went down on all fours on the track letting the agony of the last seven  days ebb out of him. When a reporter thrust a microphone in his face and asked him how he felt winning the event, he was clueless.

Still in a state of stunned euphoria, he cried out “Oh Christ !”which promptly earned him a reprimand from the Bishop of Durham “Bloody magic Bloody magic !” exulted his traveling companion  from his hometown of Sheffield.

When Coe looked back at the replay of the finish he was embarrassed at his expression – almost like Luca Brasi at the point of being garotted by the Tattaglias.


Seb Coe 1500m Final

The press now rose in one voice and celebrated the victory of a young man who had gone through immense turmoil and finally conquered his personal demons.

Ovett was prompt in congratulating the winner and in one of their rare quieter moments together said thoughtfully. ” Do you really think its worth it …………going through all this pain ?”

“I wonder if he would have felt the same thing if he had won” Coe mused. But at one level he felt happy that Ovett didnt go back home entirely empty handed.

Though not in the expected event , Ovett had won an Olympic Gold too.


(Next week : His Name Means ‘Greyhound’ in Russian)