Journalist Gulu Ezekiel was on a quest to discover the story of India’s first Olympic medalist Norman Gilbert Pritchard. He didn’t know at the time that his mission would take him more than 30 years.
Pritchard won two silver medals in athletics at the Paris Summer Olympics in 1900. Born in Calcutta in 1875, Pritchard discovered his love of track and field in India and would go on to move to England after the Olympics in 1905 to pursue a career in business.
“I stumbled on his name while researching for a story on the Summer Olympics that were underway in Los Angeles that year,” Ezekiel wrote of finding out about Pritchard in 1984 in a piece for the BBC. “But it wasn’t until last month that I finally got in touch with his descendants, who now live in Middlesex, England.”
For a history making figure — Pritchard was the first Asia-born athlete to ever medal at the Olympics — Ezekiel was surprised to find just how little was known about Pritchard’s life. “He had many firsts to his name – he was the first Indian Olympian and the first Asian to win silver medals in 200m and 200m hurdles,” he wrote of Pritchard. “Yet, very little is known about him.”
Although Pritchard was from a British family, the International Olympic Committee deemed that he was competing for India and his medals are credited to the Indian Olympic team. Pritchard eventually decided to pursue a career in acting and moved to Hollywood. He would star in several silent movies under the stage name of Norman Trevor.
Ezekiel’s big break came when he found members of Pritchard’s family who were living in England. His great-nephew Norman Pritchard Cann, who is now in his 70s, was also born in India and was a noted athlete in his youth himself.
All of us were, of course, well aware of Norman’s Olympic feats and his acting career with all the male members of the family being given either one of his names – Norman Gilbert Pritchard or Trevor,” Cann told Ezekiel.
Perhaps the most heartwarming part of Ezekiel’s piece came when Cann mentioned that he had not returned to India since he left with his family as a child in the 1960s. “He recalled his childhood in Kolkata with fondness and added that the conversations he had with me made him look forward to his visit,” Ezekiel noted.
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