This was the dream Avinash Sable had dared to see. Not personal glory but a medal for the country. This was the stage that he had wanted to be on. Not merely as a participant in the Asian Athletics Championships in Doha but as a competitor chasing a podium finish with intensity. This is what he had lived for, his place under the sun along with India’s best track and field athletes.
It was the hardy showing by the 3000m steeplechaser that shone on the opening day. Of course, javelin thrower Annu Rani landed the first silver for India, M R Poovamma missed one herself in a photo-finish at the end of the 400m and settled for bronze while distance runners Parul Chaudhary (5000m) and Gavit Murali Kumar (10000m) completed India’s five-medal haul.
The 24-year-old Avinash Sable had aroused some interest when he broke Gopal Saini’s long-standing National record by completing the steeplechase in 8:29.80 in the National Open Championships in Bhubaneshwar. But it was not until he lowered that to 8:28.94 in the Federation Cup in Patiala last month that more nuggets were discovered about him.
Everyone who follows Indian track and field sport is now aware that Avinash Sable took to running only after serving the army in extremely challenging locations like Siachen and a village in Rajasthan not far from the border with Pakistan. It is also a known fact that the son of a farmer hails from Beed district, a drought-prone area.
What nobody would have guessed is the amount of fear that he nursed. “I will be honest and admit it, yes,” he said when asked if he felt intimidated by having to run against competitors from other nations. “It is my first time and there was some fear at the back of mind, but I am glad my coach told me that I was capable of winning the gold medal, failing which I would win silver.”
Yet, it was more than mere butterflies in the stomach for him on his international debut. “I was running for the first time against these runners. When you are familiar with your competition, you can draw confidence from knowing their pace of running, their tactics and their capacity. This was a whole new experience for me,” he said.
Fortunately, coach Amrish Kumar had anticipated that and told him to not worry about what the others had done in the past. And that is the reason why he stuck to his task, unmindful of the field that included the top four finishers in the Asian Games in Jakarta last year – Hossein Keihani (Iran), Yaser Bagharab (Qatar), Kazuya Shiojiri (Japan) and John Kibet Koech (Bahrain).
Mention of the Asian Games makes him a bit wistful as he suffered an ankle injury and did not meet the qualification standards to be able to go to Jakarta. But, wearing the Tricolour over his shoulders, pride bursting forth from his heart, Avinash Sable quickly returns to the present to soak in the enormity of his feat.
One of the things that helped him was that most of these aces had not run a steeplechase event this year. John Koech had come into the Asian Championship having won the Arab Championship gold earlier this month. The Indian had benefited from running two steeplechase events in Patiala this year, including rewriting his own national record in the Federation Cup last month.
Despite the trepidation, once the race got underway, Sable was confident that he could beat everyone. He only had to remember to run to the plan that his coach had made for him.
The signs of Sable’s maturity were also evident in his decision not to pursue the 2015 champion who had enough reserves of energy to open up a comfortable lead before the bell itself. He would have burnt himself out and perhaps missed out on a medal. After all, the Kenyan-born John Kibet Koech was too far ahead and not showing any signs of tiring.
Despite running for more than eight minutes and being fourth with 150m to go for the finish, Sable remembered that his coach had asked him to give the final water jump his all. “Leap over the water if you have to, you have it in you,” Amrish had said. The steeplechaser leaped over the final water jump as it were fire that he was avoiding.
It got him past the Iranian Keihani, who was looking to complete a hat-trick of Asian crowns after winning the Asian Athletics Championship in 2017 and the Asian Games in Jakarta last year. And by the time the final hurdle loomed on the home stretch, the Indian was breathing down Japan’s Kazuya Shiojiri. And it was not long before Sable converted the bronze to silver.
And as the army man crossed the finish line, he punched air fiercely and let out a roar that pieced the chill. His time of 8:30.19 was the fastest steeplechase run by an Indian at an Asian competition. Sable had used the first opportunity to show that his National record times were not flukes. A dream, carefully plotted and well executed on track on Sunday night, had come true.
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Updated Date: Apr 22, 2019 11:13:23 IST