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The two Big Mistakes of Henry’s life

I learnt the hard way of the importance of ‘warming up’. For months, I had to manage the damage on my rotator-cuff because I forgot to ‘warm-up’ before bowling for a second spell. Injuries can happen if we overlook the basics and most times, it happens to the best of athletes. In my case, it was a friendly cricket match and I got carried away playing for an IPL management team.

For, Henry Rebello, it costed him a potential Olympic medal.

The conjunction ‘If’ through the ages has been a wonderful companion for imagination, glory, horror, worry and many other emotions. One cannot be sure if Henry Rebello would have won a medal in the triple jump; but one thing is certain, his probability would have been higher had he not been for a hamstring pain he sustained in the qualifying rounds.

Henry Rebello was a self-trained teenager who combined his keenness (to learn) along with his athletic prowess. Studying at the famous Bangalore Baldwin School, the school provided an excellent platform to compete at the local events. Rebello made the most of those resources, which earned him a gold medal at the All-India championships in 1946, when he was at the fag of his teenage years.

In 1948, Summer Olympics was back in action after a 12-year hiatus owing to the second World War. And, for India, she was independent from Great Britain. Along with other areas, India had now the challenge to develop a sports structure without much support from its colonial masters. One can argue, Henry Rebello was the right athlete at the wrong time, as India was an infant trying to come terms with life post-independence.

Henry Rebello trained himself by studying the manuals and flicker books of some of the American athletes. A mentor would have been a handy companion for the 19-year old on that afternoon of August 3, 1948. In an interview with the noted journalist Gulu Ezekiel, Henry Rebello reflected on that day when he made those two big mistakes of his life.

“We were huddled in our tracksuits and under blankets to keep ourselves warm,” recalled Rebello. “I was training with Ruhi Sarialp of Turkey when it was time for my turn. I was wondering how to approach the event. Should I go for a big jump in my first effort or keep it till the third or fourth attempt? I took off the track suit and was getting ready when an official suddenly stopped me as a prize distribution ceremony was about to commence near the jumping pit.”

Youth learns from the experience he encounters, and at times those experiences can be a nightmare which cannot be overturned. Henry Rebello was young and he didn’t realise, he could have taken all the time he needed (ok, not hours) to get him ready as he was before the delay.

“I was just 19-and-a-half and inexperienced. I should have insisted on some time for warming up. That was my first mistake — not to warm-up. My second was to go flat out on my first jump. We had a total of six and I should have taken things easy at the start.”

Retrospection is a great way to come to terms with what transpired. Many athletes have escaped injuries through sheer luck. More than luck, it was the inexperience of Rebello that met his ill-fate.

“I approached the take-off board at considerable speed. I got my take-off foot on the board and started to take off for the first phase of the triple jump — the hop. Then, suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my right hamstring muscle and heard a sort of `thwack’ like the snapping of a bowstring. My right hamstring muscle had ruptured. I was thrown off balance completely and landed with a tumble in the pit.”

The campaign of London 1948 Olympics ended for Rebello where he was touted to win the medal in triple jump. Age was on his side, however, Rebello had lost the zeal to train and instead focussed on studies.

Sports was never a career option in the 1950s and hence it was natural and practical to put his sporting career to a halt and instead focus on a lucrative and a steady professional job.

“By the time the 1952 Olympics came around, I had just graduated from Loyola College in Madras and joined the Air Force. I was under training and was told I would lose a year in seniority if I took time off for the Olympics.”

How can you look at this story and see its relevancy in today’s world? One thing that comes to my mind is that – being an Olympic champ is a tough exercise and needs a strong support structure at all levels. Few Olympic champions rely on luck, but I don’t look at it that way. To be in a position (at the Olympics) wherein you can benefit from luck takes a lot of effort and hard work.

The story of Henry Rebello can be termed as a tragic incident in the annals of Indian sports. Dwelling deeper, there is a lot to learn from that ‘near-miss’ episode of the Indian triple jumper.

Quotes from Gulu Ezekiel’s article on Sportstar