x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Conquerer of the World

Writing in his book "In the Line of Fire: A Memoir" about Jahangir Khan, Pervez Musharraf, says: "If Hollywood only knew his story of tragedy, grit and determination it would make another movie like Chariots of Fire."

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AD200810961710355AR

Who do you think is sport's all-time best? Each week, we will profile a candidate, inviting you to decide who should top our list of 50. All participants will be entered into a draw for the weekly adidas prize and an end-of-contest Etihad Holidays four-day trip for two, including business class flights and accommodation, to a mystery location. We will reveal the full 50 at the end, but this week Ahmed Rizvi looks at squash player Jahangir Khan.

Writing in his book "In the Line of Fire: A Memoir" about Jahangir Khan, the former President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, says: "If Hollywood only knew his story of tragedy, grit and determination it would make another movie like Chariots of Fire. Many of those who know him consider him the best athlete who ever lived." Musharraf was not exaggerating on either count. The youngest son of the 1957 British Open champion, Roshan Khan, Jahangir was very weak during his early years and was advised by doctors against any physical activity after a number of hernia operations. Even the Pakistan squash administrators deemed him too weak to select him for the 1979 World Championships in Australia.

Disappointed, Jahangir entered the World Amateur Individual Championship as a reserve player and became the event's youngest ever champion at the age of 15. But his joy didn't last long - tragedy struck almost immediately as Jahangir's elder brother Torsam, one of the leading squash players of the 1970s, died of a heart attack on the court during his first round match of the 1979 World Open in Australia.

The bereavement struck at the heart of the teenager. Torsam was his mentor and coach and Jahangir almost quit the game in mourning. But two years later he returned to fulfil the dream that Torsam had envisioned for him - becoming the world champion. "I did it because of him," says Jahangir. "It was his aim to make me the world No 1. He said to me, 'this is my last tournament. Let me go to Australia for this and then I will concentrate on you. You can do it'.

"He didn't come back. It was a shock for me. I didn't play for three or four months, but my family convinced me to try to fulfil his ambition. I promised to try. "I wanted to progress as quickly as possible to show the world that I had done it. It was a responsibility to my family, my friends and my nation. I spent two years playing day and night. I had nothing else in my mind." Living the life of a hermit, Jahangir trained hard to build his stamina and perfect the game.

On his return, he reached the final of the British Open, but lost in an epic to the Australian Geoff Hunt, the dominant player of those days. Jahangir, however, got his revenge the same year, vanquishing Hunt to win the 1981 World Open and enter the record book as the youngest champion at the age of 17. That triumph was the start of an incredible unbeaten run that remains unsurpassed in the world of sports. If you marvelled about Roger Federer and Tiger Woods stranglehold on their sports, then Jahangir's conquests should leave you dumbstruck.

Between 1981 and 1986 - for five years, seven months and one day - he was unbeaten and won omore than 800 matches. He played with such devastating authority during that period that he was only taken to five games once. "My first target was to win the British Open and the World Open for my brother, my family and my nation," says Jahangir. "Then, when I was there, I wanted to stay there." In 1985, he matched his uncle Hashim Khan's feat of winning the North American and British Opens in the same season. It was an astonishing "double" as less than 24 hours after crushing Chris Dittmar in the British Open final, Jahangir was on court in New York for his first-round match of the North American Open.

"His superiority was such that until one fateful day in Toulouse in 1986, Jahangir had barely lost a game," says Martin Bronstein, one of the leading pundits of the game. That fateful day in Toulouse, France, the greatest winning streak in sports came to an end. On November 11, 1986, Jahangir lost in the World Open final to New Zealand's Ross Norman at the Palais des Sports. It was the most sensational result in the annals of sport and the news became a rage.

"I knew that one day it would happen," says Jahangir, who later won his sixth World Open in 1988 by defeating Jansher Khan. "People were waiting for me to be stopped. People came to see, wondering if it would be the day that I lost. They had been waiting a long time." The secret of Jahangir's success was his incredible fitness and stamina - the sickly child had metamorphosed into a matador who would wear you down before going for the kill.

"Jahangir was a prodigy, a star, a genius, a phenomenon, and a legend, with no intervening lapses," says Sajad Muneer, a former Pakistan squash star. "He was the fittest man on earth, the finest sportsman ever, a symbol of athletic perfection and the world champion of world champions. Jahangir not only dominated the sport, he redefined it. "Jahangir is the greatest, there is no doubt about that," admits Jansher, the only other squash player fit for the same moniker with 99 career titles. "I believe part of my success was possible because I really wanted to be like Jahangir."

Perhaps his dominance of the game was determined at birth when his parents named him Jahangir, which means "conqueror of the world". Cast your vote and enter a draw for a weekly Dh500 adidas voucher and a dream trip with Etihad Holidays. If you think Jahangir is the all-time best, text G23 to 2337 Texts cost Dh5 and voting will end at midnight on Thursday September 25. arizvi@thenational.ae