July brings hope for Ashwini as ban nears end

As the continent's top athletes prepare to compete in the 20th edition of the Asian Athletics Championships

Written by Nihal Koshie | New Delhi | Published:July 2, 2013 2:09 am

As the continent’s top athletes prepare to compete in the 20th edition of the Asian Athletics Championships beginning in Pune from Wednesday,hundreds of kilometers away in Patiala,Ashwini Akkunji is experiencing mixed emotions. Ashwini,a double gold medalist at the Guangzhou Asian Games,is counting down the minutes to the midnight of July 3,after which she will be free to compete given that her two-year ban for a steroid violation is set to expire.

The fact that Thursday will see the end of a long wait is a ‘major relief’. The disappointment emerges from having to watch from a distance the biggest athletics event hosted in the country since the late 1980s. “It will be a huge relief when the ban ends on Thursday. I have completed all the reinstatement tests and I am hoping that there are no further impediments as far as my career goes,” Ashwini told The Indian Express on Monday.

Ashwini and five others who formed the core of the country’s 4×400 women’s relay team were initially banned by the National Anti-Doping Agency for one year. The athletes claimed they were given contaminated nutritional supplements by Ukraine-born coach Yuri Ogorodnik. The international athletics federation (IAAF) appealed for a two-year ban that the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld.

“The first one year following the positive tests were really difficult for me and my teammates because we had to attend legal hearings and had to wait endlessly to know the final outcome of the verdict with regard to the ban. All I had done till then was stay in hostels and train and participate in events. Suddenly I had to step out of my comfort zone and deal with the general public,which was even tougher after I tested positive because of the comments people passed. I couldn’t stay in the sports hostel and had to rent a house. I had to make a lot of adjustments because life as I knew it completely changed,” Ashwini said.

However,once the CAS verdict was announced last July,Ashwini was more at ease because the time frame for a return to competition was more or less clear.

“Over the past few months I have been more at ease as I have been able to train regularly. Getting back on the training track has been good because I had a goal again and a purpose to life again,” Ashwini,who has followed a five-hour training schedule over the past seven months,said.

Focus on 400m

However,the 400-metre hurdles specialist,is still in the work-in-progress stage when it comes to her pet event. “Initially,I will run the 400 metres flat. My target is to participate in the National Open Athletics Championships in September. I am currently doing the hurdles in 58 seconds plus (personal best 56.15) so it will take time for me to come close to getting back to my best timings,” Ashwini said.

After being the toast of the nation following her gold-medal winning performance at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games and being dubbed the ‘golden girl’,a sobriquet previously reserved for the likes of PT Usha,Ashwini’s career came crashing down in mid 2011 after the positive tests.

“Over the past year I have learnt to accept the fact that I cannot fight the ban but can only wait for it to get over. But I was more worried about my family and the trauma they went through. After all the sudden fame,they found it difficult to deal with the dope scandal. My family is waiting to see me run again and I want to run for them and win medals again.”

The next edition of the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games — both in 2014 — are the events at which Ashwini aims to get on the podium again. “The past two years have made me tougher. I believe that something good will come out of all that happened around the drug scandal. I have faith in my abilities as an athlete and am confident that I will win medals for the country again. I want to compete in the next two Olympics.”

As for nutritional supplements that she will have to take henceforth,Ashwini said,“I will have to be very careful and double check the ingredients. I can’t take chances again.”

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