Indias gold medallist from 2010s Guangzhou Asian Games,Preeja Sreedharan,finished fourth in the 10,000 meters final at the Asian Athletics Championships on Wednesday. Besides,the disappointment of missing the podium,the 31-year-old also experienced the ignominy of being lapped by the winner Shitaye Eshete.
At Guangzhou,Eshete,an Ethiopian running for Bahrain for four years,was third while Preeja had won gold with a personal best of 31:50.47. So how did Eshete finish miles ahead of the reigning Asian Games champion in Pune?
Eshete had taken massive strides while the Indian had faded out. Preejas timing of 33:41.97 on Wednesday was nearly two minutes off her pace at Guangzhou,a clear indicator that she is off her best form. Since failing to qualify for the London Olympics,Preeja took time off to get married,nursed a calf injury and most recently recovered from a viral. After tying the knot in November,Preeja returned to the track only in March. Shed made sufficient progress to win the National Inter-state last month (34:38.28) and though her season-best came at Pune,her rustiness was exposed.
Preeja happens to be among the several women runners who frittered away the rare opportunity of making home advantage,at a meet of this magnitude,count. The Asian meet was back in India after two decades but girls failed to step it up. After eight track medals at the Asian Games a lot was expected from the women runners at Pune.
Long distance running coach Surendra Singh said time constraints meant that Preeja was unprepared to take on Eshete. A 10K runner undergoes at least six months of planned practice schedules,including high-altitude training to reach peak form. Singh admitted his athlete had not clocked adequate mileage this season. Unprepared athletes and helpless coaches have combined to make this a forgettable outing for the women runners.
(Nihal is a senior assistant editor based in Delhi.)