On the first day of the 60th All India Police Athletics Championship in Delhi,the biggest stir was raised in one corner of the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium where the pole vault event was underway. Dusting his hands with white chalk,Vijay Pal Singh Tomar grasped the 4m long fiber glass pole,took a deep breathe and began his sprint to the 3.40 m obstacle he had to vault.
Alongside his run,his competitors,some less than half his age watched with a mix of incredulousness and curiosity as the man whose still standing national record,set more than 25 years ago,returned to the senior circuit.
17 years after he had last won gold at the national level however,neither Tomars reflexes nor his weight (74 kg compared to 58 kg in his prime) were not what they once had been. As the pole buckled and launched him skyward,his legs failed to straighten completely,and his body crashed into the bar. That would be the only jump made by the 45-year-old who retired from the competition citing a foot injury.
I think they were a little bit surprised to see me in the competition, he would say of the onlookers. They would have known that I could vault around 3.60 which is my Masters record but I dont think they would have been too worried to see me, he said. However Tomar wasnt done with the event. Despite pulling out from competition,he could be seen shouting out encouragement and handing out tips to the competitors after the end of play.
His early exit not withstanding,Tomar still believes he has the potential to bag a medal if not in the nationals but at least in the police games. I still have the technique but the fitness isnt perfect. But now that I have got started,I am going to make it count. I think I can still vault 4 m or maybe even more. If I can get around 4.30,then I will be able to finish in medal contention, says Tomar,currently SHO,Traffic,Dwarka.
What helps he says is that the equipment being used is far superior to the ones he had utilised in his prime. Injuries were an accepted part of a vaulters career in my time. In 1989,I was in a coma for 15 days after hitting my head on the track because the pit wasnt wide enough. In 1993,I pulled my hamstring and dislocated my shoulder after a similar mishap. Todays athletes are much luckier, he says.
While the event at JLN Stadium was his comeback competition at the open category,Tomar had competed in the 45+ category in the Indian Masters in Chandigarh,a year back. After quitting my athletics career,I waited for my records (he holds both the senior record of 5.1m and the junior record of 5m) to be broken. When many years passed,I decided to add another record and so broke the masters record with 3.60m, he says.
Tomar adds however that even in the years when he had quit sports,his athletic prowess,still came in handy from time to time in his policing career,when he had to apprehend fleetfooted criminals.
At one point of time,when I was posted at the New Delhi Railway station,I was alerted to a purse snatcher running across the train tracks. He had got a good start and would have thought that he was going to escape because he had already crossed a few platforms.
But he had to use his hands to steady himself after jumping while I had perfect balance and landed on my feet. To his shock,I caught up with him and hauled him to the station. He wouldnt have expected that the policeman chasing him would be the national record holder, he smiles.