It is easy to miss the long-limbed,wiry female runner in the swarm of athletes warming-up in the practice arena of the National Institute of Sport (NIS) here. But Ashwini Akkunji stands out when she tames the curve approaching the final 100 metres leaving fellow runners in her slipstream.
Towards the finish the 25-year-old eases off,catches her breath and slumps on to a mat for a sip of water. A 20-minute cooling down session follows before the evening practice is wrapped up.
On the eve of the 17th National Federation Cup Senior Athletics Championships as athletes prepare towards a heavier work-load schedule for the season ahead,Ashwini is getting ready to take first few tentative steps towards a comeback. A training schedule that was put together in October is gradually gaining steam.
The Guangzhou Asian Games double gold medallist (400m hurdles,4x400m relay),who was subsequently banned for two years along with the other members of the womens relay quartet following a steroid violation,will be eligible to race again from the first week of July. But in spite of her five-hour training schedule followed religiously over the past seven months,Ashwini is far from race fit.
Waiting for July
The training track at NIS,Patiala is where Ashwini has been re-building her career after the Court of Arbitration of Sport,in July last year,enhanced the National Anti-Doping Agency ruling of a one year ban to two. However,with the Asian Athletic Championships in early July and the World Championships in Moscow in August,there is not enough time for her to regain her form and qualify for these showcase events.
The National Inter-State Senior Athletics Championship,which serves as a selection trial for the Asian Athletic Championship,will be held in June,a month before Ashwinis ban ends.
She has started with 400 metres and will begin training for the hurdles later. It will take time for her to get back to her best. It is only after the CAS verdict came out that she could re-focus on training. Before that she and the other quarter-milers had to appear for NADA hearings and prepare their case. It has been a difficult period but she has been able to put the past behind her. She now looks forward to July when she will be able to participate in events again, a coach who has followed Ashwinis progress over the past seven months said on Monday.
Because of the ban,Ashwini isnt staying within the Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sport campus but is a paying guest in the city. Over the past few months I have noticed that she is also enjoying her training schedule. She is not thinking of winning medals at the moment and wants to train to the best of her ability. Once she is back on the track,she hopes to remove the stigma of being a dope cheat. She told me that she wants to start with a clean slate again, the coach added.