Hearts were warmed around the world earlier this month when Britain's Fauja Singh, 100, became the oldest man ever to complete a full marathon. On Oct. 16, Singh finished the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in eight hours, 25 minutes, and 16 seconds. It was one for the record books, or so it seemed. Now, Guinness World Records is refusing to recognize Singh's feat because he can't produce his birth certificate from 1911. Here, a brief guide to the sporting world's birther scandal:
Who is Fauja Singh?
After his finish in the Toronto marathon, the 100-year-old East Londoner began claiming the title of world's oldest marathoner. As a younger man, Singh earned a place in Guinness World Records' "over 90" category for finishing the 2003 Toronto marathon in five hours and 40 minutes. (The organization says that record isn't ratified either.) Singh has lived in the U.K. since 1992. He previously worked as a farmer in Punjab. In recent years, he's appeared in the Adidas "Nothing Is Impossible" campaign. He has completed 10 marathons.
What proof is Guinness demanding?
The organization requires Singh's 1911 birth certificate from India. Singh's trainer, Harmandar Singh, who acts as a spokesperson for the runner because Singh doesn't speak English, has said that such documents weren't available at the time. "In the developing countries, their standards simply aren't up to western standards," he says. In lieu of a birth certificate, Singh has offered his passport and a letter from the queen wishing him a happy 100th birthday. The record keepers say that just won't do. "We would love to give him the record," says Craig Glenday, Guinness World Records' editor in chief. "The problem is there is just no evidence." "Come on! Just… look at him!" exclaims Mark Remy at Runner's World. "He's gotta be 100 years old! At least! Did you not see the man's beard?"
Has Singh's passport been enough proof for other organizations?
Yes. The World Masters Athletics website accepts the passport as proof. Singh's 2003 marathon is listed on the site. There are also claims that Singh holds the U.K. records for his age group at various short distances, from 200 meters to 3,000 meters, but the British Master Athletics says they're not official records because official timekeepers were not present.
How long has he been running?
Not long. When his wife and son died 11 years ago, Singh took up competitive running and decided to pursue a world record so as not to wallow in his grief. He credits running, his vegetarian diet, and his stress-free existence for his long life. "I won't stop running until I die," he says.