FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD Lekha Unni,the daughter of a vegetable vendor,created history on Sunday by winning a bronze in the 1,500 metres at the Gymnasiade 2013,popularly known as the World School Games,being held in Brasilia. Lekha finished only her second competitive race over the distance with a timing of 4:58.23 and though this was well off her personal best of 4:38.53 clocked during an inter-club meet in Ernakulum,it was enough to give India its first-ever medal at the World School Games,which began in 1979.
Lekha,who hails from Thrissur,Kerala,is a ward of the Mercy Kuttan Academy in Kochi. Though she was short for her age,former athlete Mercy Kuttan selected her in 2010 because she saw a spark in the young girl.
Like lots of trainees in the academy,Lekha was brought by her parents for the trials to the academy after the dates were listed in newspapers. Her father PC Unni and mother Maya,an LIC agent,travelled to Kochi hoping to admit their daughter there.
Mercys husband Murali,a bronze medallist at the 1978 Asian Games in Bangkok,believed that due to her small build,Lekha may not be able to progress but Mercy was encouraged on seeing her parents interest in bringing her for the trials.
Though Lekha was not very tall,I saw that she had quick reaction times and seemed to enjoy running. I didnt want to turn away the girl also because her parents had come with a lot of hope, Mercy said on Sunday.
It was only once Lekha reached the U-14 level that Mercy turned her attention to grooming her talent. The results followed.
Last year at the National School meet,she came second in the 1,500m. That was her first competitive race (over that distance). Including the selection trials,Sundays race was only her third overall, Mercy added.
What makes Lekha stand out among her peers is her ability to train tirelessly.
When I set goals for her she will not rest till she meets them. I enjoy training her because she wants to constantly improve. The bronze is only a stepping stone, Mercy said.
SOLANKI ADDS TO GLITTER
Shakti Solanki added to Indias medal count after winning a bronze in the shot put at the World School Games,by registering a throw 19.34m,his personal best.
Solanki,a rising star,had participated in the IAAF World Youth Championships which were held in Ukraine earlier this year.
It was at the Inter-Zonal Championships in 2010 that Solanki showed his class when he won the event with a throw of 17.50 metres — nearly four metres better than the previous record.
Solanki hails from Pooth Kalan near Delhi and is the son of a local wrestler Katpal Singh Solanki.