SAN FRANCISCO (Diya TV) — Dharam Pal Singh, a cow herder from India, says he’s a 119-year-old man whose sustained fitness is the credit of herbal chutney and fruit, however, sporting officials do not believe his age.
Singh’s passport says he was born Oct. 6, 1897, and as such, he’s seeking entrance into the World Masters Athletic Championships. If the date is true, it would not only make him the oldest known runner in the history of the world, but likely also the oldest living man in the world.
But many people believe he is lying about his age.
“We suspect that he is lying about his age,” said Vinod Kumar, the senior joint secretary of the Masters Athletics Federation of India, to the New York Times.
Dr. Thomas T. Perls of Boston, a leading researcher on centenarians, said the oldest age ever validated for a man was 115. The eldest confirmed person was Jeanne Calment, a Frenchwoman who died in 1997 at 122. According to Perls, the director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston Medical Center, “99 percent of all claims of being 115 or older are false.”
The chances of Singh truly being 119 years old, and a competitive runner at the same time, probably equaled the odds of “building a rocket ship and going to Pluto,” Perls said. “Inconceivable.”
However, Perls also said any running Singh has done in his 90s is “still spectacular.”
Singh denies ever exaggerating his age, and in October, was concerned with getting himself to Perth, Australia for the championships. From his Indian village of Gudha, he was nearly 5,000 miles away from the competition.
He wanted to reach Perth by Oct. 24 to prepare to run the 100, 200 and 400 meters. He had paid his entry fee but did not have money to buy an airline ticket. He also needed a visa. He would travel to New Delhi. Maybe a politician there would arrange the necessary funds for Australia.
“I’m willing to stay in a cheap room,” Singh said, “but I want to go.”
Without Singh present, the oldest competitor would be Australian legend John Gilmour, age 97, a World War II veteran who was captured by Japanese forces and thrown into a labor camp. Gilmour’s vision was permanently damaged from malnutrition and the harsh conditions of the camp, but his pushed forward in any case with his running career after the war.
Throughout his career, Gilmour has been forced to wear sunglasses outdoors during races to shield his eyes — he can see the lanes of the track, but was never able to read the bib numbers of his competitors. Faces he saw and sees are smudged. Despite all of this, Gilmour once set a world masters records from 800 meters to the marathon. He went 10 years without a defeat on the track. In his mid-60s, he could still run a marathon under three hours.
“Hard to believe,” Gilmour said of any athlete, Singh in this case, who could be 119. “He’s lucky to be alive, much less jogging around.”
Unlike Gilmour, who has lived a catalogued life of verifiable documents, photographs, trophies, medals and even two biographies, Singh has not yet been able to produce a birth certificate. They were not regularly issued in India’s villages during the era in which he claims he was born.
Because of these gaps in birth records, masters records have been skewed toward athletes from more developed nations and disproportionately hindered athletes from Africa, India and elsewhere in Asia, said Harmander Singh, a social policy analyst and marathon coach from London.
Harmander Singh coached another runner of Indian nationality named Fauja Singh. Now a British citizen, Fauja gained widespread fame in 2011 when he set eight world age-group records at a track meet in Toronto and became the first centenarian to complete a marathon.
Fauja, now said to be 105 years old, also had no birth certificate to present. His efforts to convince masters officials or Guinness World Records of his age failed.
“People in the third world are at a disadvantage for being taken seriously,” Harmander said to the Times.
Dharam Pal Singh has been asked for four years to furnish reliable evidence to verify his birth date, officials said. School records of his children, a birth certificate, military records or medical records are all acceptable, they said.
“We have absolutely nothing to prove how old he really is,” said Sandy Pashkin, an American who is the chief record keeper for World Masters Athletics. “He could be 80; he could be 100. We don’t know.”
Through the years, Singh has not been consistent in listing his age at meets he’s attended, officials also said. One said that he registered for this world masters championship as a 117-year-old, not a 119-year-old. But he was given the benefit of the doubt, and his entry was accepted, with an asterisk.
If he traveled to Perth, Singh would be allowed to compete in the 95-to-99 category. Any record that he set would not be validated, but any medal that he won would be awarded. A duplicate medal would be given to any competitor he beat. Everyone else’s age in that group had been verified.
Information from the New York Times contributed to this report.