On Sunday, Lalita Babar completed a hat-trick of wins at the Mumbai Marathon. Her celebrations though, were short-lived after she received word of being ignored for the Shiv Chhatrapati Award in Athletics.
The coveted Award instead will go to Reshma Patil, whose only notable appearance in an athletics meet was the 2011 New Delhi nationals in the 3,000 metre steeplechase. Ironically, 24-year-old Babar has a better record in the steeplechase as well, besides good performances in races ranging from the 5,000 m to the Marathon.
Babar took up the steeplechase only last year, but already has a personal best of 10:33.40, which is significantly better than Patil’s 2011 timing of 11:19.32. As of now, Babar is the better prospect for India in the steeplechase at the Asian Games at Incheon,
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Maharashtra Sports Minister Padmakar Valvi agreed that of the two athletes, Babar had the better record, but said Patil may have got more points in the Government Reservation (GR) breakup — a set of guidelines that are used to determine the winner.
“Lalita has a good record. When we make the decisions, we look at the GR reports and grant points. I don’t know the exact figures, but Lalita probably had less and so she didn’t win the award,” Valvi said.
Patil, who has had a baby two months ago, was unavailable to comment on the controversy. But Suhas Varmane, her coach and husband, expressed the couple’s disappointment at being doubted as worthy recipients.
“Reshma has won several national medals in cross-country, 1,500 m, 3,000 m and 5,000 m. It is not as though she has not won a thing… In fact, she beat Lalita at the Jaipur cross-country in 2011,” Varmane said.
He added that Patil had come second in both the 1,500 m and 3,000 m events at the Agra nationals in 2010, and won the bronze in the 3,000 m at Hamirpur, besides a clutch of junior medals.
The Award, which has not seen a recipient since 2009, acknowledges the achievements of athletes from across the state. Babar made no attempt to hide her disappointment at being denied the honour.
“It’s really upsetting that the state government hasn’t recognised my work and achievements,” she said. “I have represented Maharashtra for so many years. I have won marathons and half-marathons. It’s very disappointing.”
Despite having moved to Bangalore in order to train at the Sports Authority of India complex, the Central Railways employee — the head ticket collector at Ghatkopar station — said she continues to run for Maharashtra. “So many athletes move to other states in search of recognition. But I have never had that urge. I would like to know why I was not selected. Maybe I can improve using that knowledge. It might show me what I lack,” she said.