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Vasai lad Harshad Mhatre hoping to go the distance

Twenty-year-old is only city boy among six picked for EDRP, which seeks to promote distance running in India keeping 2020 Olympics in mind

In a few days from now, 20-year-old Harshad Mhatre, who hails from a tiny Vasai village of around 2000 inhabitants called Umelman, will leave the saltpans of his native place behind to travel to Kenya as part of the Elite Distance Running Programme (EDRP).

Harshad Mhatre warms up at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium  yesterday
Harshad Mhatre warms up at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium yesterday 

The EDRP, run by Procam International along with Sports Authority of India (SAI) and Global Sports Communication (GSC), was launched last year to promote distance running in the country by providing professional training and international exposure to selected athletes.

Kenyan safari
Harshad and the five others — a brother-sister duo from Uttar Pradesh, Abhishek Pal and Phoolan Pal, Haryana girl Priti Lamba, Gujarat lad Murli Gavit and Uttar Pradesh's Sangeeta Yadav — will travel to Iten, Kenya's hotbed of long distance running, for a five-week high altitude training course later this month. The six were shortlisted from a nationwide talent hunt that comprised over 1000 runners.

For Harshad, the epiphany to become a middle distance runner came when he, then 13, finished second among 30-40 runners in 2007 in a 5,000m run organised by the Vasai Kala Krida Mahotsav. The finish pleasantly surprised Harshad's father, who approached Sydney Olympian Anand Menezes, to coach his son.

"Menezes sir told me on Day One itself, 'from today, don't think of yourself as a normal person, you're an extraordinary person.' That gave me a lot of confidence. Soon, I was training at the Sports Authority of India's Kandivli campus," Harshad told mid-day yesterday from New Delhi.

While the second year BCom student from Vasai's Vartak College no longer trains with Menezes, he has not forgotten his first coach's words. "I want to be an outstanding athlete and make my country proud," he said.

Though a shot at next year's Rio Olympics is a bit far-fetched, the six athletes will train with the 2020 Olympics in mind, said Vivek Singh, joint MD of Procam International.

"The six-year training programme is primarily keeping 2020 Tokyo Olympics in mind. That's why we've been age conscious too — the six athletes are all between the age of 16 and 23, so that they will be at their best in a few years from now," Singh said before adding that the programme will select a fresh batch of athletes each year from now on.

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