Runners say chalo Rio; have ammo to take on Africa
There was something in the air at the Regal Room, Trident Hotel Nariman Point last evening. Something that made you feel very bullish about Indian track and field. Indian elite athletes met the media for a Mumbai marathon interaction, telling the media that this time, they are looking at the Africans as their main competition, and the men saying that, "the marathon course record (2: 16: 59) is going to be broken on Sunday, we are aiming for that."
Indian runners (left to right) Nitendra Singh Rawat, Lalita Babar, OP Jaisha, MD Yunus and Kheta Ram at a city hotel yesterday during a press conference for Sunday’s Mumbai Marathon. Pic/Onkar Devlekar
Women elite runners O P Jaisha and Lalita Babar have both qualified for the Rio Olympics to be held from August 5 to August 21 2016, and are running the Mumbai marathon "to build endurance." Jaisha claimed she will look at competing in the 1500m and 5000m in the Olympics, while Babar said it is the 3000, steeplechase for her.
Even as elite athletes coordinator, Sunita Godara claimed that the Indians have made "remarkable progress" in timings, you could sense the electricity and ambition in that room. The Indian male runners, Nitendra Singh Rawat, a runner called M D Yunus cutting his marathon teeth in Mumbai and the wily, experienced Kheta Ram, all fresh from training in Dharamshala, had one goal, shatter the course record, "toote ga hi," (will break) they said confidently.
The women have come to Mumbai after high altitude training in Ooty (Coimbatore), and, "the warm weather in Mumbai is a challenge. The full marathon begins at 7.20 am for us, if this was pushed to an earlier timing, we can do better," said Lalita. The women stated that there is no one clear favourite amongst them. The men and women both stated that it is the foreign elite runners they will be hoping to take on. This shows a major attitudinal shift in the Indian mindset.
For 12 years now, it was a given, the African world beaters lead the pack, with the Indians competing amongst themselves and resigned to be second best. While it may still be difficult to beat the Africans, the fact that they are now the yardstick, proves that Indians have set the bar so much higher for this race.
In the men's section, N S Rawat, who clocked 2:18:06 at the World Military Games in S Korea, stated, "today I am in much better shape than I was at the Military Games." Marathon debutant M D Yunus, who like first timers often do, may tend to spring a surprise. Followers may be witness to superlative performances and pleasant surprises. This Sunday is like a springboard for the Indian contingent ready to dive into the competitive carnival in Rio.
Both O P Jaisha and Lalita Babar are using the Mumbai marathon as an endurance tool for the Rio Olympics 2016. Jaisha says she is right up there with the top eight in the world in the 1500m and 5,000m so this is what she will compete at in Rio. "After that, I will take a break from sport and see what to do with my life." Babar stated that, "I will compete in the 3000m steeple chase in Rio, no dithering on that. That is a track race and it is extremely tactical. Running a road race is very different."