Legend. We’ve come across this word countless times in sports. What defines a sporting legend? What is that pinnacle point of an athlete’s career which qualifies him/her to be called one? We’ve seen Muhammad Ali in boxing, Rod Laver in tennis, Michael Phelps in swimming and the great Pele in football. All these men have one thing in common. They’ve dominated their respective sport in such a way that their achievements are unprecedented.
Pakistan’s Jahangir Khan is amongst them. For the average sports fan, the name will probably not ring many bells, but what this legendary squash player was able to accomplish in his career is worth mentioning. When Khan won the World Open in 1981 as a 17 year old, nobody could have predicted what this boy from Karachi would go on to do. In an amazing run of 555 matches that spanned over almost six years, Khan remained unbeaten in competitive play. He was untouchable.
As any professional athlete would concur, maintaining such a streak at that level and for that long a period requires a lot of concentration and discipline, two virtues that epitomized Khan. During his flawless run which put him in the Guinness Book of World records, Khan rose to the top of the world rankings and won the British Open a record ten successive times.
It was his unrelenting approach to the game and great physical conditioning which separated him from the field. Success didn’t come easy though for the Pakistani. Originally from a small village in Peshawar, Khan belonged to a squash playing family and his father, Roshan Khan was his first coach. He had to overcome health problems in his formative years and the tragic loss of his brother to get to where he’s at today. But then that is what sets aside the good from the great — adversity, and how they are able to surmount it.
When his run was eventually halted by New Zealand’s Ross Norman at the World Open in 1986, the history books were already written. His remarkable feat will be impossible to match in any sport, let alone squash. No wonder he is considered by many to be the greatest sportsperson ever. “In my opinion he is the greatest athlete of all time” said Pervez Musharraf, the former president of Pakistan.
He was well-respected by all his peers. American squash player Mark Talbott called him a “machine”, while Irishman Jonah Barrington went on to say, “He is a true champion in every sense of the word.” In recognition of his achievements, the Pakistani government bestowed Khan with the Pride of Performance award, one of the highest civil awards in the country. Jahangir’s accomplishments are such that their inspiration transcends national boundaries. “I believe my story can offer hope to millions of people all over the world who are poor, bereaved or sick. At different times, I have been all three,” says Khan in his book ‘Winning Squash’.
As a way of giving back to the sport, which has earned him such wide acclaim, Khan is adamantly fighting for the inclusion of squash in the Olympics. “Squash meets all the demands of an Olympic sport, we have a big audience and as a global sport it has its importance,” said the former world number one. Whether the IOC agrees with him, remains to be seen.
But there’s one thing that is not up for debate and that is Jahangir Khan is the greatest squash player of all time.