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Monday, September 20, 2021

Tokyo 2020: Avinash Sable sets new national mark in steeplechase

Avinash Sable clocked 8:18.12 in heat number 2 to finish seventh and bettered his earlier national record of 8:20.20. He ended seventh-best across all the qualifying heats and 13th overall.

Written by Andrew Amsan |
Updated: July 31, 2021 1:13:53 pm
Avinash Sable in action during the men's 3000m steeplechase heats at the Tokyo Olympics. (Reuters)

Avinash Sable had a Did Not Qualify (DNQ) next to his name at the end of the 3000m steeplechase heats despite his 8:18.12s National Record (NR) breaking effort. More disheartening for the Indian fans was to see runners with slower turning, but finishing among the Top 3 in other heats, qualifying for the next stage.

It has been that kind of year for Sable. Twice this year he has tested positive for COVID-19, the relapse occurring in the last week of June, something he hasn’t even shared with his family.

The virus also disrupted his training that was already hampered because his coach Nikolai Snesarev passed away in March this year, four months before the Games.

The plan of the Army Sports Institute (ASI) athlete to train in Uganda around April never took-off. “This year hasn’t been easy at all. I had to really push myself to stay afloat. I fought and won most of my battles but I think I lost to the virus,” Sable told The Indian Express after his race.

About getting the infection for the second time, the resident of Beed in Maharashtra said, “Not even my parents know yet about my relapse. I knew if I had told them they would worry too much. I also decided to keep it under the wraps till now as I did not want people to think I am weak. I knew I could fight it out,”

But little did Sable know that his second bout with the virus would be more excruciating and draining. “It was far worse than I could have imagined. Every muscle in my body went limp. When I returned to the track I felt like I hadn’t trained for years. I had to start from scratch,” said a dejected Sable.

But despite the setback, Sable couldn’t be held back from improving his mark for a staggering sixth time. The 26-year-old runner began his tryst with shattering national marks in 2018 when he rewrote Gopal Saini’s 37-year-old record.

“Breaking a national mark in an endurance event is extremely difficult. This is probably the first time an Indian has bettered a national record in an endurance event at the Olympics. It makes me really feel proud to see the young boy I spotted turn into such a fine athlete,” recalls coach Amrish.

Sable’s personal best on Friday earned him the seventh spot in heat 2. The first three finishers from each heat and the next six fastest runners progressed to the finals. Sable’s timings were better than Morocco’s Sufiane El Bakkali (8:19.00s), Finland’s Topi Raitanen (8:19.17s ) and France’s Alexis Felut (8:19.36s) the top three finishers of the heat 3. Sable ended up being the fastest among those who failed to make the cut. The result also sparked a debate if he could have qualified had he been in heat 3. But Sable and his coach brushed it off.

“Even if Sable was in the third heat, he would have not qualified. Heat 3 had top athletes capable of clocking much faster timings but they knew they had to push themselves just enough for qualification,” explained coach Amrish.

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