Lightning Speed: An Odyssey

October 3, 2013 , by Supriya Rai, Leave your thoughts
Lightning Speed: An Odyssey » My Dreams Mag

Baikuntha Manandhar, the iconic sportsman of Nepal, can still be found most mornings where it all began. In fact I met the four times Olympian for this interview, at that same point of inception, the Rangashala Running track. 


Perched on a cement block by the dugout, the veteran recalls how it all began for him and where that incredible journey took him. Sure, he was the fastest runner among his friends, but little did anyone know then what a fireball he could be on the track. Least of all he himself.

Paila ta ramailo ko lagi daudinthe… pachi matra…”

I used to run for fun before … the competitive bit came later…”

But within two years of being selected and trained by the Ministry of Education’s Sports Council, the 16 year old ranked first nationally. The path to glory was paved; he made his international debut at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. The 24 year old, a lone representative from Nepal, having never travelled before, found himself in unfamiliar ground.

Everybody back home thought that I would run away and stay illegally in the country (the United States where he was based for his training). But I have my pride, I was there as a Nepali representative. All I wanted to do was give an outstanding performance and make everyone in Nepal proud.”

That he achieved by finishing 50th in the overall standings with a time of 2.30.7. The rigorous training, the pressure of the nation’s expectations, the hours put in, and that one eventful day in New York when he got completely lost (without the appendage of the English lingo) thrown in for good measure–all seemed worth it then.

Baikuntha Manandhar


Manandhar had his vindication, and that gratifying experience became a key motivator for pushing on harder.

There were to be three further summer Olympics—1980 in Moskva, 1984 in Los Angeles, and 1988 in Seoul. And three phenomenal SAF Games. His career-best standing on the international level was finishing 37th in the final rankings in the 1980 Olympics with a time of 2.23.51. The athlete’s most notable achievement though came later at the SAF Games.

The first ever SAF Games of 1984 which was hosted in Kathmandu bore witness to the unleashing of a menace called Manandhar. He not only won his, but also the country’s first International Gold Medal in Athletics. In the next two consecutive SAF Games of 1985 and 1987, he furthered his medal haul by two more gold medals. Most remarkably, 1987 was a year marked by a superlative performance by the SAF Champion that saw him clock a new South Asian record of 2.15.03 for 42 kms 195 mts, which stands unbroken till today.

Baikuntha Manandhar


His eyes twinkle as he recounts his memorable moments in that brisk manner that so becomes him. Only now and then he interrupts his speech, to scan the group of young athletes doing laps around the track. Arms folded across his chest, the loquacious retiree all of a sudden falls into a pensive respite.

Why has no one been able to break my record? The young player these days get technical training, diet charts, proper equipments, more exposure…,” he asks. “But then again where is the dedication and determination?” he counters himself.

The voluntary coach is of the firm opinion that the veterans had an unparalleled drive to succeed and an unmatched devotion to the sport. Something that he thinks is clearly missing among the new generation of athletes.

What did Milkha Singh have? He broke records on the back of his hard work and sheer determination. When I reminisce about that golden period, I cannot help but feel a little disappointed.”

The sportsman moves to introduce a group of people drinking chiya around a table. He explains that this group of middle aged people consists of athletes too; probably past their prime, but still with the same religious fervor for their sport. Some of them, he expands proudly, will be participating in the World Veterans’ Championship taking place in Brazil later in the year. The positive energy around the table is palpable and as he makes good natured digs at his juniors, his envy is furthermore tangible. For an athlete there, must be no other place where he is more alive than on the field, when he’s competing and representing his country.

Baikuntha Manandhar

1st SAFF Game 2041 B.S. (1984) wallet 82 no 18

Just look at the records of players like Raj Kumari Pandey and Hari Roka. Young athletes today doubt the validity of those old records. They even re-measured the running track to confirm if their records were indeed withstanding. Why? Because the new blood still hasn’t been able to outperform our older generation.”

Tomorrow, people may even say that such a marathon never happened.”

He worries that tomorrow people may start questioning the legitimacy of those old records: the failure to best it leading to such misgivings.

Yet for all his skepticism, the irony is that he seems quite eager to see new stars emerge in Nepali sports. Especially a successor, who may serve to renew the public’s interest in athletics. Someone capable of flaming the dying embers of the Athletics dream.

The Marathon runner is convinced that contrary to the general consensus, Nepal has the potential –the hardened athletes, the dedicated team behind, to a certain extent even the government’s support–to go all the way. What we are lacking, the sports enthusiast claims, is a well-thought out course of action. Most crucially, a system needs to be out in place where the process of identifying and honing talents from young age is possible. Incubation period is essential to mold and instill discipline in the players, he says. Unfortunately, with younger generations, Manandhar laments that their mindset is increasingly leaning towards materialism and individualism; which is all fine and well, until it starts hurting a player’s performance.

Though one may run alone in a game, in training you can run with other. Alone, you don’t get very far.” Meaning there is little joy in being the lone top dog. Something that one senses came from his own experience.

When inquired about his age, Baikuntha ji protests, “Umer ko ke kura bhayo ra?”

And on rumination, there does seem to be little point in associating the evergreen Bainkuntha to an inconsequential number. 



Text by: Supriya Rai
Photographer: Shyam Chitrakar, Professional Graphic Arts

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