Name: OP Jaisha
Discipline (sport): Track and field athletics
Qualification: Jaisha clocked 2:37:29 seconds in the 12th Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon in 2015 to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics after finishing under the mark of 2:44:00.
Strengths: Thanks to frequent running at high altitudes during her childhood, OP Jaisha is well-equipped to compete in long distances. It was a strength she realized after competing in the 5000m event over the years and hence decided to shift to the marathon, she revealed in an interview to Indian Express
Past Olympic performance: Debut
Past record (best performances): Bronze medal in 5000m at 2006 Asian Games, Bronze medal in 1500m at 2014 Asian Games
Rio Prospects: A medal might be beyond OP Jaisha at the 2016 Olympics, but a top-eight finish would be regarded as a good showing from Kerala-born athlete
Jaisha Orchatteri Puthiya Veetil, better known as OP Jaisha, was born in Thrissilery town in Kerala in a modest family. But a twist of fate condemned her to a childhood full of hardships. Her father was restricted to his bed after injuring his spine in an accident. Her mother went into depression seeing these events unfold and the family had to face acute poverty.
From running an average ten kilometers per day to earn a livelihood to eating mud to avoid starving, poverty stretched Jaisha to her limits, but thanks to strong support from her mother, her athletics dreams weren't extinguish.
She then grew from strength to strength, OP Jaisha went on to win medals for India in almost long running disciplines, including 1500 metres, 3000 metres steeplechase and 5000 metres at various major events.
But after she won a bronze medal in the 1500m event, her coach Dr Nikolai Snesarev advised her to switch to the marathon event. Like the other disciplines, it didn't take her much time to make waves in marathon event and broke the national record during the 2015 Mumbai Marathon when she clocked an impressive 2:37:29 timing. That feat also helped her book an Olympic berth for the first time in her career.
The 33-year-old long distance runner aims to secure a top-eight finish in Rio in one of the most grueling sports at the Olympics. But for Jaisha who has found a new passion in the sport the tiring training schedule isn't as exhaustive. Perhaps, the hassles of her childhood might come back to repay her as she tries to become the first Indian to win an Olympic medal in athletics. Achieving that would still be challenging, but that's how she's known life to be — full of challenges.