Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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HASHIM KHAN, 1914-2014

Squash champion learned from Brits

AURORA, Colo. — Hashim Khan, who rose from remote Peshawar to become one of the world’s greatest squash players and patriarch of the sport’s Pakistani dynasty, died Monday in Aurora, Colo. His family estimated his age to be 100, but records of his birth in the Pashtun village of Nawakille, then part of the British raj, are spotty.

A fast-moving racquet game developed in English boarding schools in the 1800s, squash bred elite champions. Mr. Khan was the first to break that barrier, said S. Amjad Hussain, a Pakistan-born surgeon from Lucas County who met Mr. Khan in 1964, after the squash champ moved to Detroit to work as a pro.

Mr. Khan’s path to the game is legendary.

“The dream merchants of Hollywood could not make a more romantic story than the rise of Hashim Khan,” wrote James Zug in Squash: A History of the Game.

His father, Abdullah, was a chief steward at a British officer’s club in Peshawar. The young Hashim would watch the officers play — and at night, he snuck into the courts to practice, barefoot. His father died when Mr. Khan was 11, and he left school to become a full-time ball boy. He honed his skills playing the officers and later became one of the club’s squash coaches.

After Pakistan achieved independence in 1947, the new state was eager to promote itself in international venues. “The Army and Air Force brass took an interest in him,” said Dr. Hussain, and supported Mr. Khan’s efforts to play abroad.

In 1951, he burst onto the scene by winning the British Open — the Super Bowl of squash at the time — vanquishing the reigning champion, Mahmoud Karim, an elegant Egyptian.

“That made him something like a Jackie Robinson figure,” Mr. Zug said. “But the difference was that there was no hostility toward him at all in sport, even though not many members of the clubs looked like him. In fact he was embraced. He was such a charming guy, a warm ebullient person, and passionate about the sport.”

As Mr. Khan went on to win the British Open six more times, he encouraged relatives to join him. His brother, Azam, won four titles. Mr. Khan’s cousin, Roshan, and nephew, Mohibullah Khan, each captured one. Jahangir Khan, the son of a cousin, dominated the scene at one point by winning 10 straight titles. All in all, the “Khan Dynasty” accounted for 23 British Open titles.

“This was in their genes,” Dr. Hussain said.

Mr. Khan visited Pittsburgh in 1959 for the U.S. Open, making history along the way: One of his matches was televised, marking the first broadcast of professional squash.

After working in Detroit for several years, Mr. Khan moved to the Denver Athletic Club, raising 12 children with his wife, who died in 2007. He continued to play well into his 90s.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. John Allison is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

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