Squash is an oftentimes forgotten sport. The World Squash Federation is recognized by the International Olympic Committee, the actual sport is not part of the Olympic Games.
It has been around since 1830, and in that span of almost two centuries, one player outshines every comparison, regarded as squash’s greatest ever and with some boldly declaring him—maybe exaggerating, may be onto something—as the fittest athlete of his time.
A Khan sport
Squash in the 50’s was dominated by Pakistani champions and, to be precise, the Khan family. Cousins Hashim, Roshan, Azam and Mo Khan won every British Open Championships between 1951 and 1963. And then it ended, as for the next 18 years, only Qamar Zaman was able to take the crown back to Pakistan. And then came along Jahangir.
Son to Roshan, champion in 1957, Jahangir started playing at a very young age, coached by his father as well as by his brother Torsam. It was an ordeal against all odds—Jahangir was especially weak, as he stated. But his drive was enough to push him, trying out the family game after undergoing a hernia operation.
The 1979 World Championships awaited, but Jahangir was deemed not physically fit to partake. So, instead, he entered the World Amateur Individual Championships and became the youngest ever winner with 15 years. That was months before tragedy struck—Torsam died suddenly of a heart attack during a match.
Jahangir felt deeply his brother’s loss and even considered quitting the game. But his love for Torsam was greater, and he made a resolution to become squash’s champion as a tribute to his brother. Not an easy task, which required a training regime 99% of the population would consider insane.
Hard work, discipline, commitment and ambition
Yes, squash is played in a small, confined court. But Jahangir’s training didn’t show any clue as to that.
Waking up early, Jahangir would go for a 9-mile jog, immediately followed by high intensity timed sprints. And it’s not like he would hit the same route every day—from Olympic tracks to asphalt roads, grass fields to seashores, even mountains, Jahangir made sure to get used to every surface. All that followed by weight training and cooling down in a pool. That was his standard Monday to Friday. Even off-season, Jahangir would set a match practice on Saturdays, and ended the week with a resting Sunday. Eight hours a day, six days a week.
His technique was second to none, of course. Jahangir could hit winning shots whenever needed and had a great eye for the flow of the game. However, his most powerful weapon was without doubt his superior fitness—he was simply the fittest person in the sport, if not amongst all athletes.
Jahangir’s name can loosely be translated as “the conqueror”, and that’s exactly what he did with squash.
Also the youngest ever player to win the World Open Championship with 17 years, Jahangir finally put an end to Australian Geoff Hunt’s successful supremacy on squash. That tournament marked the start of an unbeaten streak which comprised 555 matches in five years and eight months. That run would be cut in the final of the 1986 World Cup, when Ross Norman—after promising so for years—beat him. That ‘small’ sum of 555 consecutive matches marks the longest winning streak by any top-level athlete. A number from out of this world. This achievement is particularly remarkable considering some of the main characteristics of squash—high-speed ball, high-paced game, long rallies and hardly any breaks between points and games.
And if one is to talk of streaks, the consecutive 10 British Open Championships can’t be forgotten, with no other player even scratching the crown between 1982 and 1993. Add to that six World Open Championships, as well as being the first player ever to win a World Open without dropping a game, and playing the second longest squash match clocked at almost three-hours.
And if 16 Championships weren’t enough
The main reason Jahangir is considered hands-down the greatest squash player ever is because he redefined the game. While still adding to his 555-matches winning streak, between 1983 and 1986 Jahangir tested his ability on the North American hardball squash circuit. 13 tournaments, 12 victories. His success is considered to be one of the factors which led to the growing interest in ‘softball’ squash in North America, marking the demise of hardball squash and unifying them as only one variant.
Two versions of the same sport, two supremacies for Jahangir Khan. Hashim, Roshan, Mo and Jansher Khan—the last one being his number one rival, meeting in 37 matches, 19 for Jansher and 18 for Jahangir—all cemented Pakistan as squash’s capital, but none compares to Jahangir’s legacy. Pakistan’s Sportsman of the Millennium, Time Magazine naming him as one of Asia’s heroes in the last 60 years, and president for six years of the World Squash Federation, Jahangir Khan—The Conqueror—is squash. And an example for every aspiring athlete.
“I believe my story can offer hope to millions of people all over the world who are poor, bereaved or sick. At different times, I have been all three.