Gurbachan Singh Randhawa was born in village Nangli in Amritsar district on June 6, 1939. His father Tehal Singh wanted all three of his sons, Harbhajan Singh, Gurbachan Singh and Joginder Singh to be sportsmen. Both Harbhajan and Gurbachan took to athletics and Joginder Singh became a volleyball player.
During school days Gurbachan Singh became best athlete by competing in a number of athletic events. He was good at throws, jumps, races and hurdles. While studying at Khalsa College Amritsar, Gurbachan Singh started showing his immense talent. Due to his consistently good performance in at least five events, he was advised by his coaches to go for decathlon, which includes ten events including races, jumps, hurdles and throws. At the age of eighteen, he broke the six thousand point barrier in decathlon. This put him on the road to the Olympics.
During the preparations for the Rome Olympics of 1960, at the age of twenty, Gurbachan Singh Randhawa became the most improved athlete in India. But the limelight was certainly to sprinter Milkha Singh. There were other athletes like fifty kilometer walker Zora Singh, who was also clocking world class timings. Zora Singh’s rival Ajit Singh was giving him a tough competition. Both Zora Singh and Ajit Singh were quite good in twenty kilometer walk too. But their coach had advised them to stick to the longer event only. In fifty kilometer walk during the trials at one stage Zora Singh went on to shatter the prevailing Olympic record. On the other hand Gurbachan Singh was toiling hard on decathlon events.
1960 was a great year for the twenty year old Gurbachan Singh Randhawa. He was blazing the then meticulously maintained grassy athletic track of the famous Khalsa College Amritsar. On one day he will break the record in high pump, on another he will excel in 100 meters dash and on another day he will glide smoothly over the hurdles to break a new record. His achievements reminded the old timers of the good old days, when his iconic father used to rule the track. His older brother Harbhajan Singh Randhawa was a great inspiration for Gurbachan. Harbhajan was the country’s top sprinter. In 100 meters sprint the only athlete that could beat him was Karnail Singh of the Indian Railways. In 200 meters Harbhajan used to beat Karnail Singh. both used to clock 10.7 seconds and 10.8 seconds in the 100 meters race. Gurbachan Singh’s best time was 11.0 seconds, which was great for a decathlete. In high jump India’s reigning champion was Ajit Singh with a record of 6 feet 6 inches. On one occasion Gurbachan Singh could beat even Ajit Singh. in Jevelin throw Gurbachan Singh was capable of breaking the 200 foot barrier. Every day used to exhibit a new prowess in Gurbachan Singh Randhawa. At one time he was seen eclipsing the fame of Milkha Singh. India’s Olympic coach of 1960, Joseph Kovacs was wonder struck at the ease in the style and utter flexibility exhibited by Gurbachan Singh in throws and races.
One of the finest among the American coaches John Reed went on to predict that 1960 was of course the year of Milkha Singh, but if all goes well the year 1964 shall definitely belong to young Gurbachan Singh Randhawa.
By the summer of 1960, India was virtually assured of two athletes going farther than any other Indian athlete in half a century. These promising athletes were Milkha Singh, India’s leading quarter miler and Zora Singh, India’s best bet in the longest walk. But when the trials were held, Gurbachan Singh Randhawa stole the limelight. During those days Decathlon was attempted by only the athletes from the defense services, Punjab Police and the railways. Gurbachan Singh Randhawa exceeded 6500 mark, which was considered good enough for qualifying for the Olympics. Although the berths available for the Indian Athletic contingent were rather few, but Gurbachan Singh’s merit positively qualified him to be considered. The state of Indian Athletics was so pathetic that the pole that Gurbachan used for the pole-vault event was the worst used by any athlete.
In the 1960 Rome Olympics decathlon competition, as always, was spread over two days. Gurbachan Singh Randhawa’s favourite events, the 110 meters high hurdles and javelin throw were scheduled on the second day. But on the first day itself Gurbachan Singh exerted his hardest to stay within the first bunch of eight athletes. Due to his over-exertion and lack of planning he got so much exhausted on the track that he started running high temperature. As a result he had to walk out of the second day’s competition. Some experts were of the opinion that judging by his performance on the first day, Gurbachan Singh Randhawa was destined to finish amongst the first eight decathletes. But Gurbachan Singh Randhawa was never a quitter. He knew it quite well that the Indian athletes peak at the ages of twenty five and twenty six and he started preparing for that.
After the Olympics in 1961 Gurbachan Singh Randhawa joined the Central Reserve Police Force and kept concentrating on the difficult sport of decathlon. In 1962, in the run up to the Jakarta Asiad, Gurbachan Singh broke the 6600 mark in the event. His career best score was 6912 points, which during those days could fetch him a place among the top six in the Olympics.
In 1962 Jakarta Asian Games, Gurbachan Singh had no serious challenge in decathlon. He went into the lead from the first day and when the tenth event the 1500 meters race, also called the metric mile, was completed an exhausted Gurbachan Singh had accumulated 6739 points, which qualified him to win the gold medal and the honour of being the all round best athlete in Asia.
After the Asian Games, Gurbachan Singh Randhawa knew which event had become his finest bet. Out of all the ten events his score was the highest in 110 meters high hurdles. So he reluctantly abandoned decathlon for concentrating on 110 meters hurdles. At that time he was consistently clocking 14.3 seconds in that event. This timing was amongst ten best timings in the world.
Then came the Tokyo Olympics and the peeking of Gurbachan Singh Randhawa. He was entered this time in 110 meters high hurdles only. The congested field consisted of thirty seven athletes. Prior to the Tokyo Olympiad, Gurbachan Singh started improving his timings. His best effort was 14.1 seconds. Gurbachan Singh won his first heat in second place. He was the fastest loser to qualify for the semifinal and then he scrambled to get a place in the final eight competitors.
Gurbachan Singh reserved all his energies for the final. The sky was completely overcast. Visibility was not all that great. Then rain started pouring drenching the synthetic track. According to the spirit of the Olympics, be it rain or sunshine, the competition must go on. The event was gone through in spite of the rain. Un-perturbed by the fury of the torrent and unmindful of his personal safety, Gurbachan Singh put all his energy in the race. In the end he did not win a medal but he did manage to beat three others, who had returned better timings than him during the preliminaries. When the result of the photo-finish was announced, Gurbachan Singh was placed fifth with a timing of 13.9 seconds. The gold medal was won by Jones of the U.S.A. in 13.6 seconds. The silver was claimed by another American Lindgren in 13.7 seconds. Anatoly Mikhailev of the U.S.S.R. won the bronze medal and an Italian won the fourth place. Like Milkha Singh four years ago, Gurbachan Singh did not win a medal, but his performance was the best achieved by any Asian athlete. Gurbachan Singh took this result in stride like a seasoned sportsman. After that several Olympics have come and gone, but no Indian has won an Olympic medal in track and field events. After him Sriram Singh came seventh place in Mexico Olympiad of 1968. In 400 meters low hurdles for women P.T. Usha got the fourth spot in Los Angeles 1984 Olympiad. Overall Gurbachan Singh Randhawa has been India’s finest all rounder athlete.