A year ago, Anu Raghavan had thoughts about quitting athletics. Not included in the Indian Olympic relay team, she had taken on the Athletics Federation of India, filed a court case wanting to know why she was dropped despite having better timings than the athlete who replaced her. In time, she realized such answers are as difficult as winning Olympic gold. But she hung on, turned her focus to the 400m hurdles and a year later; here she is, bagging silver at the 22nd Asian Athletics Championships. Time is a healer, they say.
Bhubaneswar was seeing better weather after the downpour on Friday. With a breeze flowing in from the open end of the stadium and the humidity a shadow of what it was a few days back, Raghavan stood in lane seven with a year of frustration, pain, failure and resentment hovering over the track like a dark cloud.
As the gun cracked, she was smoothly out of her blocks, clearing each hurdle. At the 300m mark, Vietnam’s Nhuyen Thi Huyen on the inside lane surged ahead. On the straight, the battle was now for silver and bronze. With 50 metres to go, Raghavan dug in showing amazing tenacity, grit and a fighting spirit that made her cross the finish line in 57.22, her personal best. Slightly dazed at the finish line, she dropped to her knees, almost bowing, head on the track. It had been two years since her last international competition. And she had a medal. Above in the stands, PT Usha watched, what was her pet event, some 33 years back.
Smiling at the reporters and speaking haltingly in Hindi, Raghavan said she would now focus on the 2018 Asian Games. “I was a little tense before the race,” she said. “It’s been two years since I raced internationally. I didn’t know who are my opponents.”
The talk veered around to the vexing issue of her coach and how she would deal with the Athletics Federation of India. It’s always been the battle of the personal coach versus the one appointed by the Federation. That was exactly what had led to her removal from the National camp before Rio, though the federation should have allowed some leeway when it comes to athletes seeking help from personal coaches.
Speaking about her coach PB Jaikumar, a Kerala State Sports Council coach, Raghavan once again said he should be the one coaching her. “I am comfortable with him and would like to train in Trivandrum,” she said.
In June at the Federation Cup in Patiala, Raghavan had shattered the meet record registering a personal best of 57.39s, from her previous best of 57.79s. Within the space of a month, she had broken her own personal best twice. Anu praised Huyen’s run which gave Vietnam gold and when asked if she could have stopped the Vietnamese, she said, “I don’t like front running. I always like to come in from the back.” But Huyen’s pace on the straight had killed any hopes that Anu might have had of catching her.
Jaikumar, her coach, was delighted with her silver and said he did expect her to win and go below 57 seconds. “I think she can do 56.5 at the Asian Games but she told me that she is confident of running 56.” Jaikumar was, however, candid when it came to the Olympics. “You need everything in terms of the ingredients like diet, training facilities and mental peace to be able to do that timing which will take you to Tokyo 2020,” said Jaikumar. At the moment, Raghavan’s big broad smile is of a mind at rest bereft of turmoil.
With only six runners competing for the 3000m steeplechase, Sudha Singh, the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games champion had to contend with the clock too. Winning was a formality in such a weakened field. She led from the start with all the runners in a bunch for the first two laps before Sudha pulled away, realizing the lap times were terribly slow. In the end, she won with lots to spare, as the packed Kalinga Stadium roared her on. Sudha won gold with a timing of 9:59.47. Her personal best is 9:26.55 clocked at the 2016 Diamond League in Shanghai.
Slowly coming back after a bout of swine flu during the Rio Olympics, it has taken time for Sudha to comeback into her stride. With a ticket confirmed for London, Sudha said she would try and break the national record at the World Championships. “The humidity is a factor here,” she said. “I have been training in Dharamshala and those conditions are different. If I am unable to create a new national record in London, then I will do it at the Commonwealth Games and then the Asian Games.”
Fans at The Kalinga were witness to some high level of competition in the hammer and the men’s high jump. Dilshod Nazarov, the reigning Olympic Champion, won the gold in the hammer with a throw of 76.69m. At Rio, he had won gold with a throw of 78.68m. Tajikistan’s Nazarov has won the last three consecutive Asian Games gold medals and apart from participating in four consecutive Olympic Games has also competed in six World Championships.
In the high jump arena, only two competitors were left when China’s Zhang Guowei successfully cleared 2.28m. Silver Medalist at the 2015 World Championships, Zhang did an early celebration as he thought the jump was enough to give him the gold. But South Korea’s Woo Sanghyeok whose personal best was 2.29 cleared 2.30 challenging Zhang.
It shouldn’t have been a problem with Zhang who has done 2.38m but it just wasn’t his night; failing with three attempts. Secure that the gold was his, the South Korean then went for 2.32 but couldn’t achieve it in his three attempts. An angry Zhang took off his vest and threw it on the track. For someone who has consistently jumped between 2.32 and 2.38, the gold had been gifted away. For the fans, it was a night of world class jumping.
Two bronze medals came India’s way in the women’s triple jump when Sheena NV, trailing for much of the way jumped 13.42m to clinch the bronze while in the men’s 400m hurdles Kerala’s Jabir MP clocked a personal best of 50.22 to win a bronze medal. For the 20-year-old, this was his first international competition. Jabir had timed in at 51.47 at the Federation Cup. Flush with confidence, he said, “I will try and qualify for the World Championships at the Inter-State Meet in Guntur.”
The Indian women’s 4X100 relay team also picked up a bronze; Merlin K Joseph, Himashree Roy, Srabani Nanda and Dutee Chand beating back some tough competition from Thailand and Malaysia. In fact, India could have finished with a silver but a slow baton exchange between Srabani and Dutee saw the 100m bronze medalist having to make up ground to ensure a 3rd place for the delighted Indian women’s team. India clocked in at 44.57 with China taking silver at 44.50 and Kazakhstan winning gold with a time of 43.53.
With India on top with 7 gold, 4 silver and 9 bronze and a total of 20 medals ahead of China who have 5 gold, 6 silver and 4 bronze for a tally of 15, PT Usha has promised a 800m gold on Sunday, the last day of competition, from Tintu Luka. “She will take the gold and qualify for the World Championships,” said Usha. For those coming in on Sunday to watch Luka and the show-stopper Neeraj Chopra, the junior World javelin Champion, one hope’s there are no twists in what has till now been a winning script.
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Updated Date: Jul 09, 2017 11:30:31 IST