Top Indian middle and long distance runner O P Jaisha is set to leave marathon after Sunday's Standard Chartered Mumbai Race as she feels that she has a better chance of winning a medal in 1500m and 5000m events in the Olympics later this year.
Jaisha has already qualified for the Rio Olympics in marathon but she said she does not have much chance to win a medal in that event and wants to shift focus on 1500m and 5000m. She said her coach Nikolai Snesarev has told her that Mumbai Marathon, which she won last year among the Indian contestants, will be her last.
Jaisha though is yet to qualify for Rio Olympics in 1500m and 5000m. "Yes, my coach felt I had a good chance in marathon in the Rio Games. But I feel I have a better chance of a medal in 1,500m and 5,000m and am going to concentrate on qualifying for them after this marathon. Our coach (Belarussian Nikolai Snesarev) has promised me it is the last marathon I will run in my life," Jaisha said at a media conference today.
Jaisha, on her debut in the gruelling 42-km run last year, outlasted all other Indian rivals to come home in 2:37:29, then a new national mark, and later attained the qualifying mark for the August Rio Games set by the world athletics body IAAF.
Jaisha, who has won bronze medals in past two Asian Games in 5,000 and 1,500m, bettered her own mark while running the marathon in last year's World Championships at Beijing where she clocked 2:34:43 to end up 18th, but said her mind was not set in running either the marathon or even the 10,000m at Rio.
"After the Incheon Asian Games I had trained, along with Sudha Singh (who finished 19th in Beijing and also qualified for Rio) and Lalita Babar, mainly for the marathon for one year and ten months at the high-altitude Ooty. This has helped me improve my endurance as well as speed," said Jaisha who will be 33 in May.
Jaisha said she can give a shot at a medal in 1,500m or 5,000m in Rio as per the timings she has clocked in the past, rather than in the marathon and was confident of qualifying for these events in the run-up to Rio Games. "I am confident I will qualify in these events. I have done 4:03 in 1,500 (qualifying mark 4:08. Though I did 15:30 in the last National Games, it was because I could not do speed work in the short period available. I am confident I can make the 15:24 qualifying mark. I, in fact, am targeting something between 14:40 and 14:50," said Jaisha.
Jaisha said with help from her home state Kerala and the Athletics Federation of India she would be able to achieve her aim of attaining the qualifying mark in the two track events (1500m and 5000m) and boarding the flight to Rio.
Lalita Babar also said that though she was running the marathon here, her focus will always be on the 3,000m steeplechase which she will run in Rio after having qualified for that event at the Beijing World Championships.
The Railways athlete from Satara district in Maharashtra has qualified for the Rio Games in the 3000m steeplechase event by setting a new national record of 9:27.86 at the World Championships in Beijing last year.
"I am taking part in the marathon to improve my endurance, but my focus for Rio is on the 3,000m steeplechase," said Lalita, who won bronze medal in 2014 Asian Games. Lalita has been the top finisher among Indian women in the Mumbai marathon three times in the past. Also in fray will be Sudha Singh, another seasoned steeplechaser, who has qualified for Rio in the marathon but it was learnt she too has not taken a final call on this issue though she was not present at the media conference.
Army runner Nitendra Singh Rawat, who qualified for the Rio Games by clocking 2:18:06 to finish eighth in the World Military Games marathon in Korea in October last, would be aiming to come out trumps among Indian men runners in the full marathon.
"I want to better the course record (2:16:59) set by Ram Singh Yadav (in 2012)," said Rawat who is among 11 runners from the armed forces who will be running the full distance. Kheta Ram, who finished tops in the Vasai-Virar marathon in October last, said he also wanted to qualify for the Rio Games through this event, which is his last chance to make the grade.
"Qualifying mark is 2:19 and I want to do better and dip under Ram Singh's record," said the athlete who clocked 2:22:00 when wining the Vasai-Virar event.
"July 11 is the cut-off date for attaining the qualifying mark," said Rawat who trains with the other army runners at Ooty under coach Surinder Singh Bhandari.
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