Swapna Barman has six toes on each foot. The sport that she plays – and of which she was proclaimed ‘Queen’ by many on Wednesday – involves seven events. A national heptathlon record has been written in her name and now she has an Asian Games gold to show. On Wednesday, she became the first Indian heptathlete to win an Asiad gold. She did so by notching up a remarkable 6026 points and became only the fifth woman to cross 6000 points in the event. One side of her face was bandaged so as to help her go about what she does best without letting a throbbing toothache get in her way. That toothache is only a reminder – for India’s most prodigious heptathlete, the world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.
Hailing from Ghospara village, on the outskirts of Jalpaiguri town in North Bengal, Swapna faced hardships quite early on in life. While her father was a rickshaw puller, her mother worked at a tea estate. Tragedy struck when her father suffered a stroke and was completely bedridden. Life became difficult for the family of six as they struggled for two square meals a day. At a very young age, Swapna knew she would have to take the lead and it was sports that provided her with a chance to fulfill her dreams.
Much of Swapna’s initial athletics career witnessed a lot of struggle as she could neither run properly nor afford the proper running shoes. But life’s not about how hard of a hit you can give… it’s about how many you can take, and still keep moving forward. Ignoring the pain and defying all odds, she kept fighting on and all it required was motivation at the right time.
Swapna Barman loved to run from a tender age. It was back then that her current coach Subhash Sarkar noticed her talent and took her under his wings. Thereafter, she started making waves across the athletic fraternity in Bengal. Results came thick and fast as young Swapna won three gold medals in the Asian School Games in Malaysia.
But in 2013, at the 29th National Junior Athletics Championships in Sri Kanteerava Stadium, Bangalore, Swapna Barman showed a glimpse of her underlying potential when she broke the national record in heptathlon and high jump by jumping 1.71 meters and breaking the previous record of 1.70 set in 2004 by Kavya Muthanna. Back then an ecstatic Swapna dedicated her win to her coach – “Credit for this new record goes to my coach Subhash Sarkar. I am very happy that I have won the gold. My purpose is to win at the biggest stage of them all. That is my only motivation and to make my father P Barman proud,” a young and nervous 16-year-old Swapna had told the reporter in 2013.
Who knew at the point, five years down the line that moment was waiting to come…
But the road ahead was fraught with perils and success was not going to come easy for the Indian heptathlete. At the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, Swapna stood fifth in heptathlon but it was the first occasion when her back pain had surfaced. In 2015, it went from bad to worse as persistent back and ankle injuries ruled her out of action for two years.
Congratulations Swapna Barman For winning Gold in Heptathlon. Despite battling the excruciating Chin injury, the super beat all odds to come out as a Champion. Super proud!#SwapnaBarman #AsianGames2018 pic.twitter.com/dWwgcVh2l3
— Geetika Swami (@SwamiGeetika) 29 August 2018
But champions will get up even when they can’t. In 2017, Swapna was back with a bang at the Asian Athletics Championships, where she won the gold medal despite finishing 4th as she had collected enough points to be on top- 5942 pts. However, till date, she needs to visit Mumbai to see a doctor and take injections for her back pain.
On Thursday, Swapna became the ‘Queen’ of heptathlon as she won the gold with high jump (1003 points), javelin throw (872 points), shot put (707 points) and long jump (865 points). Her performance was slightly below par in 100m (981 points, 5th position) and 200m race (790 points, 7th position). The last of the seven-event competition was the 800m dash where Swapna needed a good finish (leading China’s Qingling Wang by 64 points). She eventually finished fourth to ensure a podium finish.
1st in Heptathlon, Asian Championships, Bhubaneshwar 2017
5th in Heptathlon, Asian Games, Incheon 2014
7th in Pentathlon, Asian Indoor Championships, Doha 2016
8th in High Jump, Asian Indoor Championships, Doha 2016
2nd in Heptathlon, Asian U20 Championships, Taipei 2014
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