Indian sport in shock after the sudden passing of ‘Gentleman Sprinter’ Kenny Powell

Fans and friends hail the Arjuna Award winner who defied the odds and went on to represent India at the Olympics and Asian Games

By By Leslie Wilson Jr.

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Kenny Powell was one on India's most famous and well respected athletes who carved a niche for himself as an exceptional sprinter. Photo: Kenny Powell Facebook
Kenny Powell was one on India's most famous and well respected athletes who carved a niche for himself as an exceptional sprinter. Photo: Kenny Powell Facebook

Published: Mon 12 Dec 2022, 10:23 PM

Sports fans in India were in a state of shock following the sudden passing of former sprint king and Olympian Kenny Powell in Bangalore on Sunday.

Powell, who was 82, represented India in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m replay at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.

He is survived by his wife, Daphene, an athletic star herself, and their two children, daughter Michelle and son Geoffrey.

Popularly known as The Gentleman Sprinter, in recognition of his polite manner in which he conducted himself both on and off the track, Powell was also a key member of the 1970 Asian Games bronze medal-winning 4 x 400 metre relay team.

Born in Kolar Golf Fields (KGF) to Anglo-Indian parents, Powell moved to Bangalore when he was 19-years-old. It there that his athletic career first began to take shape.

Kenny Powell with his wife Daphne, who was also an accomplished athlete. Photo: Kenny Powell Facebook
Kenny Powell with his wife Daphne, who was also an accomplished athlete. Photo: Kenny Powell Facebook

Powell did most of his initial training at the Annaswamy Mudaliar School grounds on Moore Road and St. Alysouis School grounds on Assey Road.

Later, as his skills underwent a level change under the watchful eye of Rangers Club coach Krishan, he could be seen training for long hours at the Kanteerava Athletic Stadium.

He first made his mark when bagging a sprint double at the inaugural National Inter-State Athletics Championships at Allahabad in 1963, winning the 100m in 10.8 seconds and the 200m in 22.0 seconds. He would repeat the feat in 1968 in Madras, shaving split seconds of both times.

The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) led the tribute to Powell, who was an Arjuna Award recipient in 1965, with its President Adille J Sumariwalla saying: "Indian athletics grew in stature back in the 60s because of the efforts of athletes like Kenny Powell who won 19 titles in sprint events in the National Open Championships and National Inter-State Championships.

"He overcame the disappointment of not being cleared for the Asian Games in Jakarta in 1962 and played a key role in the Indian 4x100m relay team making it to the semifinal of the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Similarly, left out of the Asian Games in Bangkok in 1966, he remained motivated and helped India get the relay bronze in 1970 in Bangkok.”

Speaking on behalf of the All India Anglo-Indian Association, of which Powell was a highly-respected member, Ursual Fosberry, President of the Bangalore Branch, said in a statement: “We are deeply saddened to say goodbye to our Anglo-Indian Icon, our hero and above all the gentlest soul one could ever meet.

“You sprinted away faster than we expected and it breaks our hearts to see you go. You will be sorely missed by everyone who knew you or heard about you”

And there were many who did.

Social media has long been an outlet for grieving so it was not surprising to see many friends and fans have taken to the popular platforms to mourn an influencer simply identified as Kenny.

PC Ponappa, a two-time Asian medalist, took pride in saying that Powell had a big influence on his career.

“Success or defeat, Kenny always stayed the same. He wouldn’t brag or do any over-the-top celebrations like many did if he won. And when he lost he was the first to congratulate the winner. Accolades or agony, he remained the same,” he told the Deccan Herald in Bangalore.

However, everything was not hunky-dory for Powell who would have to deal with adversity as well.

He was not cleared for the Jakarta 1962 Asian Games and 1966 Bangkok Asian Games which inspired him to work harder at this craft.

Four year later he took the Jakarta setback in his stride and bounced back strong to help India win a 4x100m relay bronze at the 1970 Asian Games.

At the Olympics Powell finished fourth in Heat 1 with a timing of 10.7 seconds to narrowly miss qualifying for the quarter-finals. American legend Bob Hayes won gold that year with a new world record time of 10.0 seconds.

In the 200m, Powell clocked 21.9 secs to finish sixth in his Heat .

Powell was part of the Indian In the 4x100m relay, team that included Anthony Coutinho, Makhan Singh and Rajasekaran Pichaya that reached the semi-finals finishing seventh overall with a time of 40.5 secs, just three places short of qualifying for the final.

The gold was won by the Bob Hayes led US team in a world record time of 39.0 secs

Even after retirement in 1970, Powell, who could hold his own in a cricket match, would represent Karnataka in the National Handball Championships. He also represented India in the 45-49 age group in World Masters Championships in Melbourne.

The legacy that he has left behind is sure to have a positive impact on many lives across India.

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