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On the Indian athletics circuit, coach Vijender Singh is known for his knack of spotting talent. He also is famous for staying in the background and letting his wards bask in glory. Vijender has shaped the career of at least half a dozen athletes, including Olympian Kavita Raut, an Asian Games medal winner in the 10K and the 5K.
Minutes after his latest find, 20-year-old Sanjivani Jadhav won a bronze in the women’s 5000 metres in her maiden international meet, Vijender compared Nashik to Kenya. It’s a stretched comparison but you get his point.
“Kavita Raut, Monica Atre… Sanjivani. I am telling you Nashik is the Kenya of India,” the coach says. “I am saying this because people in that belt are hardy. And that’s because of their surroundings. Remember, Kavita had to walk so many kilometres to reach school or fetch water. From an early age they are used to running and are thus naturally athletic,” Vijender said.
Like the Asian Games medalist Raut, Sanjivani trains in Nashik. She hails from Vadalibhai, a taluka which is an hour-away from Nashik. Vijender first spotted Sanjivani, the daughter of a teacher, at a local athletic meet. Back then, about seven years ago, she wasn’t serious about pursuing sports. Her grandfather, a wrestler, wanted her to grapple. She even participated in several district-level meets. But Vijender convinced the family that she was better suited for track and field.
On day one of the Asian Athletics Championships, in the field of eight 5000m runners, Sanjivani was the youngest. The diminutive athlete was dwarfed by her tall competitors. Right through the race she stayed close to the leading pack of Daria Maslova of Kyrgyzstan, a bronze medal winner from the previous edition of the championships, and the United Arab Emirates’ Alia Mohammed. L Suriya.
With two laps to go, it was expected that Surya- an experienced middle distance runner – would fly away. In the Federation Cup last month, Suriya had won the gold ahead of Sanjivani in the 10,000 metres. This time Sanjivani held her own. This was a tougher field than the one she had faced at Patiala last month and coach Vijender had asked his ward to stay with the pack and push only in the final lap. The strategy paid off as Sanjivani made a successful transition from the junior to the senior level at an Asian meet.
Maslova won the gold (15:57.95), Alia Mohammed took silver (15:59.95) and Sanjivani’s bronze-medal winning run was timed at 16:00.24.
“The bronze I won today is a huge boost for me because I was participating in my first senior international meet and competing against Asian-level athletes. I am going to participate in the World University Games next and my performance here will give me a lot of confidence,” Sanjivini said.
Coach Vijender believes that Sanjivini can win medals at major international meets. “She is only 20 and she has made tremendous progress over the past few years. She has proved that she has the heart, talent and the endurance to win big competitions. I am confident she will scale new heights from here on,” Vijender said.
During the last edition of the Asian Athletics Championships in Wuhan, China, India had won 13 medals and finished in third place behind the hosts and Japan. On the opening day of the 22nd edition of the championships at the Kalinga Stadium, seven Indian athletes finished on the podium. On a day when India won two gold, one silver and four bronze, Sanjivani’s third-place gave Indian athletics a new star.