Time Magazine Asian Hero: Jahangir Khan

How should we measure success in sport—by the number of commercial endorsements an athlete has signed? By the size of fees earned or TV audiences generated? How about the longest sequence of unbroken victories? If we take the latter as our prime criterion, then Jahangir Khan might just be the most successful sporting figure in history. In the five years to 1986, the Pakistani squash player was unbeaten in over 550 matches. Before the decade was out, he had taken six World Open trophies. From 1982 to 1991, he won 10 British Open titles in a row. If winning is everything, then Khan is the greatest. Period.

As part of a great squash dynasty (his father, brother and cousin were all international players), Khan had the game in his genes. In 1979, at the tender age of 15, he had already won the World Amateur title. But his brother, Torsam Khan, died of a heart attack that same year while playing in the Australian Open; with the loss of his mentor and hero, Khan nearly gave up the game. Two years later, however, he honored Torsam’s memory by defeating the Australian squash legend Geoff Hunt to become, at 17, the youngest-ever winner of the World Open. His strategy, then and later, was eerily reminiscent of a matador’s—to wear down his opponent’s physical and mental reserves, bit by bit, before delivering the sudden coup de grace—usually a lethal drop shot from the very back of the court.

It was the New Zealand player Ross Norman who finally ended Khan’s unbroken run, defeating the stunned Pakistani in the 1986 World Open final. But Khan’s aura has not been diminished: as the new century dawned, he would be named Pakistan’s Sportsman of the Millennium, and today he reigns supreme over the sport as the president of the World Squash Federation. In retrospect, Khan’s total dominance of the game seems to have been determined at birth when his parents named him Jahangir, which translates as “conqueror.” No athlete in any sport has done more to deserve that billing.

Completed list of Time Magazine Asian Heroes