Mohinder Singh Gill was one of India’s earliest stars in athletics. A triple-jumper by specialisation, Gill was born just months before India’s independence from the British in a Punjabi family.
Though he has represented India in events like Olympics, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, Mohinder Singh Gill is mainly remembered for his exploits in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), representing the California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) for whom he won five titles in Triple Jump, the first of which came in the year 1969. Gill was sort of a legend in the NCAA circles, not only winning five titles but also setting NCAA meet records each time he would win.
Indians going abroad to pursue education was a rare sight in those days when Gill created a name for himself in NCAA. What forced him to leave his country and ply his trade for the Cal Poly is the fact that his achievements in the country were always over looked. While Gill was studying at the Kurukshetra University, he had broken national record twice in Triple Jump, but it was never recognised.
It was at this point Gill met Tommie Smith (200m Olympic Champion in 1968) at the World University Games in the year 1967 who advised him to shift his base to the United State of America. This move worked wonders for Gill as rose in stature rather swiftly.
One of Gill’s greatest victories was in the year 1971 when he defeated 12 Olympians to win the Division 1 title with a jump of 16.79meters – a then Indian national record. It was also the second highest jump ever recorded in the American soil.
Even after his record breaking performances for Cal Poly, Gill was continuously ignored for the Indian national team. He was not allowed to represent India by the Indian authorities for the 1974 Commonwealth Games, which forced the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, to take the matter in her own hands. This was despite the fact that Gill was the only athlete to win a medal for India in the previous edition of Commonwealth Games in the year 1970.
Though, Gill was always at odds with the authorities in India he was awarded the Arjuna Award in the year 1970. He has bagged three Asian Athletics Championships gold medals and one gold and one silver in Asian Games as well for India. Besides, during the course of his career, he also clinched 52 medals in various European and North American invitational tournaments.
The only Olympics he participated was the 1972 Munich Games. It though did not have any pleasant memories for Gill as he injured himself just three days before his pet event of Triple Jump. He though, had participated in the Long Jump and finished a disappointing 30th.
Gill hung up his boots at a ripe age of 29, after he was not allowed to participate in the 1976 Montreal Olympics by the Amateur Athletics Federation of India (AAFI). After his retirement, he stayed in the United States of America and started his own business.
He was inducted into the California Polytechnic State University’s hall of fame in the year 1993 and was the first ever Asian to receive this honour.
Mohinder Singh Gill with a magic in his turban (or as his competitors in USA believed) might not have had the best of relations with the AAFI and its authorities, but he for sure remains one of the best athletes India produced by India.