If you were to Google “fastest runner in the world” today, the name Usain Bolt will inevitably appear on your screen. Considered to be the greatest sprinter of all time, Bolt made history in 2009, when he ran a distance of 100 meters in a record-setting time of 9.58 seconds. At just 23 years old, this Jamaican Olympic athlete became a worldwide sensation. So, it is sure to make headlines and get people talking when buffalo racers from India get compared to the undefeated champion of the track. Srinivas Gowda and Nishant Shetty, two Kambala jockeys from southern India, are said to have broken Bolt’s record when running with buffalos.
Srinivasa Gowda, a 28-year-old construction worker from Karnataka, became famous overnight when videos of him participating in a local sport went viral online. The name of the sport is Kambala, and it means “paddy-growing mud field” when translated from the local Tulu language. This traditional south Indian sport is basically a buffalo race, where participants dash through a slushy paddy field with two buffaloes running in front of them. The participants have to cover a distance of 132 meters or 142 meters, and whoever does it the fastest, wins!
In this particular match, Gowda was not only fast, but he covered the distance of 142.50 meters in just 13.62 seconds, and he also broke a 30-year-old record on the way! His record-breaking win was initially reported by the local Kannada newspapers, but the Additional Director General of Police contacted the senior editor of one of India’s major news networks, and the story took off almost instantly. Gowda’s remarkable achievement was not only praised, but the was also compared to the living legend Usain Bolt.
Here’s why – Bolt holds the record for finishing a 100-meter sprint in 9.58 seconds. If we calculate Gowda’s time in terms of a 100-meter race, it comes at 9.55 seconds, which is 0.03 seconds faster than Bolt’s time.
Merely a few days after Gowda became a “celebrity,” another Kambala jockey named Nishant Shetty has come forth with an even better time than Gowda. He ran 143 meters in 13.68 seconds or 100 meters in 9.51 seconds.
While both Gowda and Shetty performed spectacularly, comparing them to Bolt may have been a little premature and even a bit silly simply because of the differences in the two sports. Bolt is a track-and-field legend and an Olympic star. He runs on synthetic tracks, wearing spiked shoes. Kambala, on the other hand, is a local sport that takes place on a wet, muddy field, and the participants run barefoot holding a rope that is tied to two buffalos. Many have argued that the racer gets momentum from the speed of the animals.
In fact, the president of the Kambala Academy, Prof. K. Gunapala Kadamba, has discouraged comparing Gowda with any other sportsperson. Gowda, though excited by his achievement, remains a humble man. He was quoted saying, “People are comparing me to Usain Bolt. He is a world champion. I am only running in a slushy paddy field.”
After Gowda’s athletic talent came to light, netizens and several government officials urged the Sports Authority of India to take notice of him, which the organization did. They offered to take him under their wing and train him with the best coaches possible. However, Gowda has turned down their offer, stating that he would like to focus on and excel at his chosen sport Kambala for now.