This Day in History (3-Oct-1992) – Geet Sethi wins the world professional billiards championship

Geet Siriram Sethi won the 1992 World Professional Billiards Championship on 3 October, achieving a world-record English billiards break of 1276 under the three-pot rule, giving India a new sporting hero. One of the greatest sporting talents India has ever produced, he won the title again four times — in 1993, 1995, 1998, and 2006. Sethi took to the sport when he turned 13 at Ahmedabad. At the Gujarat Sports Club, he met with Satish Menon, a very successful Billiards player of the time, and took vital tips and guidance from him.  Within two years he won the first of his five junior billiards titles. He did well in snooker too, though he has always been his most brilliant at billiards.  Sethi entered the National Billiards Circuit in 1979 when he was 18 years old, clinching both the Junior National Billiards Championship and Junior National Snooker Championship the same year. He first made an international mark in 1982 at the Indian National Billiards Championship, defeating Michael Ferreira. Sethi won the National Billiards Championship (which is an international event) again for four straight years, from 1985 to 1988. He won the title again in 1997 and 1998.

Sethi, who holds two world records in billiards, won the professional-level World Championships six times and the amateur-level thrice. In 1985, he defeated Bob Marshall to claim the IBSF World Amateur Billiards Championship. He reclaimed the title in 1987, and won another amateur title in 2001. During the 1989 National Snooker Championship, he officially became the first person to have achieved a maximum amateur break of 147. Finishing as runner-up in the World Professional Billiards Championship in 1996, he brought glory to India in the Bangkok Asian Games in 1998 by winning gold in the doubles event, in which he partnered with Ashok Shandilya. In the 2002 Busan Asian Games, he won two medals — a silver in the doubles and a bronze in the singles event. Again in the 2006 Doha Asian Games, he won a bronze in the doubles. He won the Irish Open Billiards Championship in 2007. Sethi was awarded the Padma Shri and the Arjuna Award in 1986, K.K. Birla Award in 1993 and India’s highest sporting award, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, in 1992–93.



This Day in History (29-Sep-1959) – Arati Saha swims across the English Channel – the first Asian woman to achieve this feat

Arati Saha took to swimming at the age of 4 and was encouraged by her coach Sachin Nag to participate in competitive events. She won many state-level titles between 1945 and 1951 and also set a national record in 1949. Arati was keen to take on a larger challenge. Inspired by the example of Mihir Sen, the first Asian man to swim across the English Channel, she set out to accomplish this feat.

The English Channel, also simply called the Channel, separates England from Europe, specifically the coastal region of Northern France. Its width ranges from 33.1 km (20.6 miles) at the Strait of Dover, where most swimmers attempt the Channel crossing, to 240 km (150 miles) at its widest point. The English Channel connects the North Sea to the Atlantic and is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. Swimming across the English Channel is not free of danger, with sharks and stinging jellyfish being particular threats. Strong tides and sheer exhaustion caused during this endurance swim can also prove fatal. At least 8 swimmers have lost their lives while attempting a Channel crossing over the years.

Arati got trained in the arduous process of training, as an endurance feat of this nature requires both physical and mental preparation. Accompanied by a pilot team who helped her navigate through the English Channel, Arati Saha swam across the English Channel from Cape Gris Nez in France to Sandgate on the English coast near Dover on 29th September 1959, when she was just five days away from her 19th birthday. She swam for 16 hours and 20 minutes and covered a distance of 42 miles. After arriving at Sandgate she unfurled the Indian flag as a sign of victory.  The English Channel conquest was not just a victory for her, but also for the women of Asia. It was an eye-opener for the rest of the world, who till then believed that Indian women rarely ventured outside their kitchen gardens. India recognized her inspiring feat by awarding her the Padma Shri in 1960. Arati Saha was also recognized by the Indian Postal Department in 1999, which included her in a series of stamps on pioneering Indian women by issuing a 3 Rupee stamp with her image on it.