Ram ends marathon drought

Becomes first Indian to qualify for Olympics since Shivnath Singh’s Moscow appearance

Written by Shivani Naik | Mumbai | Published: January 16, 2012 3:59 am

After running a distance of 42.195 kms over 2 hours,16 minutes and 59 seconds,there must be little energy left to compose platitudes. So,like most proud marathoners — who must respect their own toil and running-craft above all else — Ram Singh Yadav did not bother with political correctness.

He spoke with rare honesty instead. He said he did not much care about running “for” the country,since the country didn’t particularly care for him.

“Main sirf apne gharwaalon ke liye doudunga. Na desh ne kabhi humare baare mein socha hai,naa hum desh ke baare mein sochenge,” he said.

In the future,he would run only for his family,not for the country that had spared little thought for him in all these years. John F. Kennedy was clearly not addressing a group of long-distance runners after a taxing race when he urged them to ask not what their country did for them.

But this assertion was no hysterical rambling of a man reeling from the exhaustion of a marathon. Yadav had just qualified for the London Olympics with a timing of 2:16:59,the first Indian to do so since 1980,when Shivnath Singh (best of 2:12) went to Moscow after Montral in 1976. Yadav was first in the Indian category and twelfth overall.

Yadav,a mild-mannered 29-year-old athlete from Varanasi did not flirt with that Olympics qualification cut-off of 2 hours,18 minutes this time,displaying his credentials in bold strokes and rapid strides,leaving not a shade of doubt as he sprinted the last 200 metres and steered clear of any ambiguity that had marked another January late-morning four years ago.

Beijing heartbreak

In 2008,about six months before Beijing,Yadav had scrambled in 3 seconds later than the 2:18:20 qualifying-mark at the Mumbai Marathon. An ill-informed Suresh Kalmadi made a typically imprudent announcement in a fit of gushing extravagance typical to Indian dignitaries foolishly given mikes in their hands on important days. He’d declared that the Athletics Federation of India would ensure that Yadav made it to Beijing,promising a second chance at Hong Kong or a pre-Olympic qualifier in Australia or a ‘whatever-it-takes’,if Kalmadi’s shrill decibel was to be trusted. The promise found the trash-bin in three flat days.

Yadav’s coach KS Matthews can list out the federation pillars and corporate posts he grew tired of frequenting,as a pledge made so publicly to Yadav was so summarily forgotten. “Dil wahi toot gaya,” Yadav spoke of the nightmarish day from four years ago,that reflected bitterness even in an affably dimpled smile.

A year later,in 2009,Yadav clocked 2:18.03 — slashing 20 seconds. A doting father to his two children Amit (7 yrs) and Ankit (5),forced to make rubbish excuses when well-wishers and ill-ones asked him about Olympics,Yadav had spoken his mind again. “They’d announced they’d help and then nothing happened. Lollipop dikhaaya aur diya nahi. People laughed at me. I went nowhere,and no one broached it after that day,no one followed up on that promise,” he had guffawed.

Then in 2010 as if strangely over-compensating for their blunders concerning the Army Havaldar,RS Yadav was made to run 4 marathons (ideal is two in a year) while chasing a CWG standard of qualification. He ran at Delhi and the Asian Games within a month.

On Sunday,10 years of experience for the long-distance runner from Babiyab village in UP,was poured into this one race that mattered more than others. He admitted to keeping up with the Kenyans and Ethiopians for the first 3 kms,but then chucked that strategy to settle into his own rhythm. As Yadav hit the home stretch,the Indian’s canniness in choosing his speed was evident,as Kenyan Joseph Mbithi became an inadvertent pace-setter for the final spurt.

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