Centenarian out to set the record straight

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 February, 2012, 12:00am


The amazing feats of centenarian athlete Fauja Singh are certain to impress Hong Kongers today.

But it seems the man they call the 'Turbaned Torpedo' hasn't made the same impression with the Guinness World Records organisation.

It has refused to accept him as the world's oldest marathon runner because he can't provide them with a birth certificate.

Teetotal vegetarian Singh ostensibly became the oldest runner to complete a marathon last October when he finished the Toronto Waterfront event.

And when he appears in the 10 kilometre race at today's Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, he's sure to be a star attraction.

However, sticklers for procedure at Guinness World Records, the global authority in record-breaking, have refused to recognise his achievement as there is no official document to verify his age.

'We have not currently received the necessary proof of Mr Singh's actual date of birth in order for us to ratify his claim,' a Guinness World Records spokesman said. 'The claim will remain open until such evidence is provided.'

Singh hails from London and became a British citizen in 2003 after emigrating from India, where he worked as a farmer, in the 1980s.

Born on April 1, 1911, he speaks only Punjabi. His coach and translator Harmander Singh said the snub didn't bother him at all.

'When Fauja heard about it he asked, 'Who is Guinness?' He knows how old he is and so does everyone else, which is all that matters,' his coach said.

Harmander Singh explained that when they asked Guinness World Records if the previous record holder had a birth certificate it transpired that he didn't, so he too was disqualified. The elderly runner has a letter from Queen Elizabeth II that all British citizens get when they reach 100 years old.

He has had five passports in all - four of them Indian and one British, with his date of birth on them.

'In India, if someone can testify under oath that this is the person he says he is and this is his date of birth, it is enough,' Harmander Singh said.

'If it's good enough for them it should be more than good enough for the Guinness World Records.'

He added that birth certificates were not compulsory in developing regions such as rural India, where the centenarian athlete was born in a small village in the Punjab.

'Today the Prime Minister of India hasn't got a birth certificate, but it doesn't seem to be a problem,' Harmander Singh said. 'You could argue it's institutionalised racism. But it doesn't matter to us anyway. We all know he is 100 years old.'

The SCMP will be covering Fauja Singh's progress in today's 10km race and his exploits will be shown on www.scmp.com. Go to http://vimeo.com/36187252 to watch our coverage of the marathon.