“Powell complained of breathlessness and we rushed him to the hospital on Sunday morning, but he didn’t respond to treatment. He was healthy and went to bed after watching the World Cup quarterfinal match between England and France,” family sources told TOI. He is survived by his wife and former athlete Daphne, daughter Michelle and son Geoffrey. His second son Gavin passed away recently.
The 82-year-old Powell, who hailed from Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) and the first athlete from Karnataka to represent India at the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, was India’s flag-bearer at the 1966 Games. The ‘Gentleman Sprinter’ was a treasure trove of Indian and world sports with photographic memory of yesteryear — from cricket to hockey to athletics.
Powell, who was the undisputed sprint king in India from 1963-68, winning 17 gold medals in the 100 and 200 metres, competed at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in the 4x400m relay with Milkha Singh and was part of the bronze medal winning 4×100 relay squad in the 1970 Bangkok Asiad. He was honoured with the Arjuna award in 1965. He also won the Marshal Tito award.
Powell clocked a national record of 10.74s in 100m (1964), the world record being 10s clocked by Bob Hayes at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. In the 200m, the Bengalurean’s best was 21.0 that he timed in Coimbatore in 1962. Powell qualified for the 1962 Commonwealth Games, then British Empire Games, in Perth and then the 1966 edition in Kingston, Jamaica. The 1962 Games turned out to be a big miss for Powell as India pulled out due to the war with China.
“The next edition was in Jamaica and I was lucky that the Duke of Edinburgh came and sat at our table for breakfast,” Powell had told TOI in an interview.
“We trained in Russia for three weeks but on our way to Jamaica we were stranded in Port of Spain for almost a week and were forced to compete without any practice. Also, I injured my hamstring two days before the race and was forced to pull out at the 30m mark,” Powell said.
Grandson of a Welshman who served in an ammunition (Cordite) factory in the Nilgiris, Powell began his career as a lethal pace bowler of Colonial Sports Club in KGF and broke the jaws of a few reputed batsmen. He began his athletics career in 1959 under coach Krishna, who ran the Rangers Athletic Club, and he trained at the Annaswamy Mudaliar School in Frazer Town. During his weekly offs from work on Thursdays, he was at the Sree Kanteerava stadium doing the 300m time trials.
“I began playing cricket for ITI after joining the company in 1959. Our coach was the famous Benjamin Frank, the first Indian to score a century against the West Indies team that had the three Ws, during their tour to India in 1948.
Frank told Powell that it would be difficult to make a mark in a team sport and advised the young man to switch to athletics. “My dream was to play cricket for the country, but it didn’t materialize,” Powell had said.
That move helped script a golden chapter in Indian athletics.
Powell was a humble person and we participated together at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. We were in the coaching camps and competitions together and I found him to be a very disciplined person. He was one of the fastest and the most economical runners in the country at that time.
— Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, 5th place, 1964 Olympics.
Kenny won friends with his excellent behaviour. He was known for his quick start and we had a close race at the Madras National Games in 1968 where he pipped me to the gold in 100m. Kenny, Rajasekharan, Ramesh Tawde and me were all neck-and-neck but Kenny had more wins than the rest.
— ASV Prasad, former national champion and ED, SAI.
Indian athletics grew in stature back in the 1960s because of the efforts of athletes like Kenny Powell who won sprint events in the National Open Championships and National Inter-State Championships
— Adille J Sumariwalla, AFI president.
KP was a gentleman sprinter. He always encouraged up and coming athletes and gave me valuable tips when I was his junior. He had fast legs. He was a natural athlete and didn’t need much training.
— VR Beedu, Dronacharya awardee coach.
Name: Kenneth Lawrence Powell
Sports: Athletics (sprints) and Cricket (fast bowler)
Teams: ITI, Railways, TISCO
Olympics: 1964, Tokyo (100m, 4x400m, 4x100m)
Commonwealth Games — 1966, Kingston, Jamaica
Asian Games — 1970, Bangkok (bronze, 4x100m relay)
Awards: Arjuna (1965), Marshal Tito (1965)
National record: 100m — 10.74 (Tokyo Olympics, 1964)