New York Times story reveals real age of ‘119-year-old sprinter’

Headline on web version of story made me smile.

Headline on web version of story made me smile.

India’s Dharam Pal Singh isn’t 119, and he didn’t compete in Perth as planned, but thanks to Jere (say Jerry) Longman and Hari Kumar of The New York Times, we finally know his true age group. And it’s nowhere near M100. Their 4,000-word masterpiece on masters age fraud (with a detour celebrating two real M95 gents) is a hoot. You must read to the end. I’m proud to have a bit part. Jere interviewed me by phone before flying to Australia, and I suggested some possible sources. He talked to Sandy Pashkin, Winston Thomas and Stan Perkins — plus some experts on centenarians. I love how the story gives the Indian fraudster the rope he needed to hang himself. The Times quotes him as saying that those who accuse him of inflating his age “are jealous of my health, my age, my running. People say I do not look like 119. If I walk with a stick and with a bent back, then I would look like 100-plus. Without a stick, with a straight back, I look like 80- to 90-plus. My good health has become my misfortune.”

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November 16, 2016

20 Responses

  1. Rob Jerome - November 17, 2016

    That’s an interesting story, I guess, but if the NY Times thought the best story to come out of Perth was to debunk the obviously false claim that an Indian guy…who didn’t even show up at the meet..was 119, then Jere Longman made the long trip to Perth for not much.

    What about Bill Collins winning double Golds in the 100 and 200 after overcoming paralysis…and after being hospitalized after the 200 semis? What about Irene Obera winning practically everything in sight at age 82? What about our women athletes over the age of 75 winning 22% of the American medals?

    Now, those are stories worth 4,000 words.

  2. Peter L. Taylor - November 17, 2016

    Here’s another way of looking at it, Rob. What if a writer from the NY Times went to Perth to do a story on John Gilmour, apparently the oldest competitor in the meet, and then found that the story he wanted to write was a bit thin? Not Gilmour’s fault per se, but rather the consequence of John’s illnesses.

    In fact, Gilmour was not able to do a great deal at the meet, but this D.P. Singh from India posed an interesting alternative story, and he actually got higher billing than Gilmour. From what I know, Collins, Irene Obera, etc. were never in the running for coverage. Why? Too young.

  3. Rob Jerome - November 17, 2016


    I am very much a proponent of the media covering the oldest of the old at Masters meets, have photographed our oldest competitors for years and was even asked to review the book on Olga Kotelko entitled “What Makes Olga Run?” because of my published coverage of our oldest athletes.

    But I am increasingly disappointed that the “mainstream media” tend to focus solely on stories like that of Mr. Singh, who wasn’t even in attendance at Perth.

    It would not have taken much for the NY Times to pivot a bit once on the ground at Perth and look for the some of the real sports stories. Bob Weiner was in Perth doing his usual excellent job of trying to direct the media in appropriate directions, but you can only lead horses to water, you can’t make them drink.

  4. Peter L. Taylor - November 17, 2016

    Thanks, Rob. Well, I’ve already revealed more than I should have, and so I won’t say anything more. Just be secure in the knowledge that if you were under 90 at Perth you weren’t going to be covered, at least through the outlet noted above.

    Oddly enough, when Barry Bearak of the NY Times covered our indoor masters nationals in Bloomington several years ago he interviewed Kathy Bergen (then W70), Bob Lida (a new M75 at that time, I believe), Kathy Martin (then W60), I think, and possibly a couple of others.

    One theory as to why you now need to be 90+ to get coverage is the concept of shame. If I’m in my 40s and run the 400 in 50 seconds (or even less), I put readers my age to shame; I show them up. The theory is twofold:

    (1) People in their 40s, 50s, etc. don’t want to be shamed by reading about people who are vastly better than they are athletically. (2) If people in their 40s or 50s really want to read about T&F they want to read about the elites, not people 20-25 years older who would be soundly beaten by the elites.

  5. Mary Harada - November 17, 2016

    That is one take on the focus on the oldest competitor rather than those who are top performers. I have another theory – not such a polite one – but rather what I sometimes think of as the freak show or Hello Kitty with white hair and deep wrinkles. Find the oldest competitor – follow him or her around for a day or two and highlight their performance, what they eat, drink, and how they look- that might be fine for someone like Olga who was very talented and got respectful press coverage. But it does not work so well for someone who is “really old” but still able to get to the start line and make it – one way or another – to the 100 yard mark. It becomes the “oh so cute like Hello Kitty, grandma, grandpa is just so Kawaii Japanese for cute but it does not mean cool). Irene should have been a feature story as she is a remarkable athlete who is aging gracefully and looks much younger than her physical age. There were other older athletes at the meet – some of the sprinters from Great Britain and Australia as we In fact it tends to be the sprinters who get a bit of press, rarely the throwers, race walkers, and middle/long distance folks. We are not Kawaii – we are “weird” and who wants their grandparents to be weird. The Kawaii stories are usually not done by sports reporters who might understand a thing or two about track and field. They seem to seize upon the oldest ones at the meet and play up the age rather than the athletic performance.
    Just my jaundiced view of the press interest in the oldest of the old press coverage at WMA track meets.

  6. Ken Stone - November 17, 2016

    Don’t blame Jere. His editor said write about the 119-year-old. Without that hook, we’d see no Perth story at all.

  7. Rob Jerome - November 17, 2016

    Not blaming Jere, but to go halfway around the world to get a couple of quotations from Stan and Sandy seems like a huge waste. The interviews could have been done by phone since Mr. Singh, the subject of the article, was not even in Perth, and I was told by an Australian press guy that it was well known before the meet that he was not showing up.

    I guess a non-story (proving that an athlete isn’t 119) is better than no story, but sad that the NY Times couldn’t recognize the many real stories that were happening in Perth and give some well-deserving athletes, particularly Irene, their due.

  8. Peter L. Taylor - November 18, 2016

    You make some very good points, Mary (no. 5). To expand on my post in no. 4, the traditional rabid sports fan who devours articles on athletes is looking to read about both established and new stars in pro baseball, football, basketball, and sometimes ice hockey. Articles about the exploits of big colleges and universities in football and basketball also do well.

    Many of these fans/readers have what amounts to almost a worshipful attitude about the big stars. Far from being shamed by them, they are in awe and would be ecstatic if they could meet them.

    When it comes to star masters track and field athletes aged 35 to 79 we are talking about amateur men and women who have trained very hard to get where they are. They literally “put to shame” those readers who do very little athletically.

    Being an extraordinary hurdler like Joy Upshaw, a great sprinter like Bill Collins, a superb discus thrower like Ralph Fruguglietti, any of our wonderful middle-distance runners, etc., etc., literally means nothing to these readers, and they do not want to read about them, in my humble opinion.

    Editors of the sports pages then go to “human interest” stories about our athletes, especially those who have been on this earth for quite a few decades (see Harada, no. 5).

  9. Peter L. Taylor - November 18, 2016

    And most readers of the sports pages have little interest in track and field anyway and have trouble translating the performances of our stars. Bill Collins ran under 25 seconds in the 200 at indoor nationals at age 65, you say? Is that any good?

    Did he get any money? No. Did he train hard? Yes. Well, it sounds like a big waste of time to me. Let me go back to reading about the NFL.

  10. Rob Jerome - November 18, 2016


    Your remarks are very similar to some I heard at the national convention of the American Psychological Association where I gave a presentation on Masters Athletes last summer.

    When I entertained comments from audience members about why they thought there was so little public, corporate and media interest in Masters Athletes, one psychologist used the term “internalized ageism”. He explained that many people are afraid of aging, and when they see athletes of their own age doing things that they couldn’t possibly do, they feel threatened.

    This is supported by some of the psycho-social research that suggests that Masters Athletes do provide a role model function, but mostly for younger athletes, not for people in their own age cohort. People of their own age can actually feel resentment toward Masters Athletes.

    Thank goodness for Ken and his blog and National Masters News for providing accurate and respectful reporting about the accomplishments of Masters Athletes to an audience who understands and appreciates those accomplishments.

    Frankly, if I see another “cute” human interest story about older athletes in a major publication, it will be too soon. Rather than advancing the sport, these stories in my opinion trivialize the sport by spreading to a large audience a view of the sport that is incomplete and misleading. Just being thrown a bone by the New York Times is no automatic honor.

  11. Peter L. Taylor - November 18, 2016

    Thank you, Rob, as you have expanded the discussion. In a few minutes I will be off to the library, where I will teach my Chinese students Youzhen Chen and Jie (unknown last name) about both the basic and finer points of the English language.

    After 2 hours of teaching these charming women (I think they’re both in W35), I’m off to New Jersey.
    Will catch up on this story next week, Rob, after I get back.

  12. Michael D Walker - November 18, 2016

    I think that there are some really good comments about why Masters Track gets so little attention from the public [and the USATF]. Any thoughts on how to change the perception to a more positive one?

  13. Matt B. - November 18, 2016

    How was his age disproved? Not saying I believe him, but who knows for sure. He could be 100. They said his eldest son was born in 1949, when he would have been 52.
    There is going to be more and more issues with verification of age in the coming years.

    “There are estimated to be 300–450 living supercentenarians[3] in the world, though only 50 verified cases are known.”
    There is certainly many more supercentenarians out there and perhaps we only have verified 10-11%% of them. If someone was 120 or 125 wouldn’t they look more like someone we suspect is 95 or 100?
    Consequeantly they would also be less likely to produce a birth certificate.
    I do believe that somewhere out there – there could be a 130 year old amongst us.

  14. Rob Jerome - November 19, 2016

    Michael (comment 12),

    Outside of this blog and National Masters News, I think some of the best coverage of Masters is done by local newspapers. When athletes return from competitions, they should contact their local newspapers to describe their accomplishments. Many of our top Masters do that, but one doesn’t have to be a record holder to get the word out. These local stories tend to “humanize” Masters Athletes and show them not as oddities but as people who work hard and deserve respect.

    With a more intensified grassroots media campaign, national publications may take note from local media and treat Masters Athletics as it should be treated…like true sports and not as a source of “cute” stories.

  15. Michael D Walker - November 19, 2016

    Rob (14),

    A great suggestion.

  16. Keith McQuitter - November 19, 2016

    I thank god I have had 7 familey members live over 100. 2 are still living none look there age. At 90 being able to run is a blessing

  17. peter van aken - November 19, 2016

    One other detail that has not been mentioned so far is apparently he describes himself as still working, as a cow herder and farmer….so with our diminishing US Social Security system, and the need for people to continue to be working at jobs well past the usual retirement age- maybe this India guy is the oldest self employed individual in the world?

  18. Weia Reinboud - November 20, 2016

    Interesting discussion! It is hard to have good stories about our sport in the big media, in the local media it is a bit easier and both will hardly stimulate older persons to become involved in our sport. Aside from running.
    But there is something going on. Twenty years ago it was quite normal for good athletes to stop at age 30 or 35, but nowadays I see more and more athletes just continue doing their sport, because they see us having so much pleasure although being decades older. This slowly will change the opinions of the general public about sport and age, don’t you think so?

  19. Rob Jerome - November 20, 2016


    I think you are right that increasingly more people continue to do the sport they did in their younger years (and that this will gradually change public opinion about sport and age), but I do think there are also those “late starters” who learn about Masters Athletics through the media and that, thus, it is important for the media to depict Masters as true sport and not simply as “human interest”, though the two are not mutually exclusive.

    My quibble with the New York Times article was simple. Mr. Singh, the centerpiece of the article, did not even show up in Perth, so to me, debunking his obviously false assertion that he was 119 was a non-story. If he had shown up in Perth, maybe the story would have been worth the space it was given in the NY Times.

    If the NY Times sent a reporter all the way to Perth to do a story about age and sport, the Times should have lowered its “age requirement” from 90 to 75. Then, their reporter would have been flush with candidate stories populated by names like Obera, Donley, Harada, Daprano, Bergen, Cozens…just to name a few of the American competitors who fit the age category and made real news.

  20. Ken Stone - January 2, 2017

    Masters track in NYT again! At least in the corrections:

    An article on Nov. 21 about age verification for the oldest competitors at the World Masters Athletics Championships misidentified the type of medical equipment the 97-year-old John Gilmour wore at the 2016 event. It was a urostomy bag, not a colostomy bag. This correction was delayed because the error was brought to the attention of editors only recently.

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