Record-Breaking 100-Year-Old Marathoner Keeps Running, But Can't Make Guinness

The new darling of the marathon scene is an Indian man named Fauja Singh, who can run 42 km in eight and a half hours. With that time he finished 3,850th in the recent Toronto marathon, which would be rather unremarkable -- if it weren't for the

Singh in Frankfurt (Suddeutsche Zeitung video)
Singh in Frankfurt (Suddeutsche Zeitung video)
Frederik Obermair

FRANKFURT -- The star looks as if he's asleep. His trainer says he isn't. "He's wide awake and can't wait until the next race," says Harmander Singh. His protégé looks like he in fact could wait. His arms folded, his head -- wrapped in a dark blue turban -- tilted forward, Fauja Singh is sitting in the lobby of a Frankfurt hotel. His eyes are closed. Two weeks ago, he was the first 100-year-old to run a marathon. The effort has tired him out, which is why he's taking a catnap – or at least that's what it looks like. But his trainer isn't having any of it.

"He says he's delighted with his achievement and all his fans," says Harmander Singh, speaking for Fauja Singh, who has yet to utter a word. Now, however, the aged runner opens his eyes. The scrawny Kenyans who won the Frankfurt Marathon point at him, whispering and giggling. His build is similar to theirs: short, slight, with thighs thinner than a well-fed person's upper arm. However, because Fauja Singh is old, his muscles are weak, and he needs six hours longer than they do to cover the 42 kilometer (26 mile) stretch.

Still, Fauja Singh is the one the blonde wearing tight pants and a bright smile wants to have her picture taken with. "You are sooo fantastic," she says in English. The runner nods. He strokes his long grey beard and grins at the camera. As his fan leaves, he looks after her and says: "Why wasn't she around when I was 20."

The ‘turbaned tornado"

Singh has been a well-known figure on the marathon scene for years. In 2000, aged 89, he ran his first race in London -- but it wasn't until his eighth event, as a centenarian, that he moved toward legend status in the running world. That was two weeks ago, in Toronto. In small, quick steps, his upper body mostly bent over, eyes down, he ran the 42 km through the Canadian city. It took him 8 hours, 25 minutes and 16 seconds. He came in 3,850th place. "To have achieved that is like – getting married again," he says.

Newspapers worldwide celebrated the "Turbaned Tornado." In Frankfurt, too, where Singh ran after Toronto, a dozen journalists were covering him even though he did not go the whole distance. Doesn't matter, a BBC journalist said: "he is just amazing." A French reporter gushed: "I love him." She asked him if he'd marry her. He said no, but she kissed him anyway. "He calls me baby," she said proudly, as he started running.

He joined the race at 36 km, chatting with fans as he passed, waving. He called it a "nice little round of jogging" after he reached the finish line. It didn't matter that he'd only done a portion of the event. All the attention was on him anyway.

Now, in the hotel lobby, his trainer, Harmander Singh, is surrounded by journalists. In his mid-50s, the small man has a T-shirt that reads "Sikhs in the City" stretched over his belly. He too is clearly enjoying the situation. "Just tell us what you want, we can accommodate," he says.

Fauja Singh is now silent again. He in any case speaks only broken English: his trainer translates all the questions into Punjabi for him, though he doesn't get a lot of answers besides an occasional "yes." Fauja Singh agrees to be photographed standing next to the limo of a race sponsor, dons some red running shoes for a sports brand, and tries on the jacket that has "100" emblazoned on it. He says yes to everything. According to Harmander Singh, the runner isn't making any money from this. "He does it because he enjoys it. He loves all the attention."

So how about an interview? "With pleasure," says Fauja Singh, taking a seat and scratching underneath his turban. But once again it's Harmander Singh who does all the talking. He is a practicing Sikh, he says, and like Fauja uses the name Singh for religious reasons. They are not related. He is Fauja Singh's trainer, friend and interpreter – in a manner of speaking. Fauja Singh utters one sentence, then Harmander Singh delivers 10.

He recounts how Fauja Singh was born on April 1, 1911 in India, then a British crown colony. There he eked out a meager existence as a farmer. Later he lost both his wife, and then his son, Kuldip. "He was killed in an accident, right in front of his father," says Harmander Singh, adding that the widower became depressed "and was even thinking of taking his own life."

Instead, in the mid-1990s, Fauja Singh moved to East London, to live with his youngest son – and, with other Sikh seniors, began running competitively. In marathon running, his best time so far is 5 hours, 40 minutes – he achieved that aged 92. If he won't make it into the Guinness World Records as the world's oldest marathon runner, it's because he can't produce a birth certificate. "He has a passport with his age in it, and a 100th birthday letter of congratulations from the Queen, but no birth certificate since they didn't have those in India back in 1911."

Without the certificate, it was no go for Guinness – but Fauja Singh doesn't care. "I just want to run," he says. "When I stop I will die."

Read the original story in German

Photo - Suddeutsche Zeitung video

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!