On Friday, Gopal Saini, a former steeplechaser, received a call he has been waiting for more than three decades. He was resting in his room when chief national coach Bahadur Singh rang up to tell him: “Your record has been finally broken!” Avinash Sable, a 24-year-old son of a farmer from Maharashtra, had eclipsed Saini’s 37-year-old 3,000m steeplechase national record on his way to gold at the Open National Athletics Championship in Bhubaneswar, clocking 8:29.80s. Saini had set the mark of 8:30.88s in 1981 at the Asian Athletics Championship in Tokyo.
Athletics was never in his mind when Sable joined the army in 2012. After serving in “general duty” for three years in states such as Sikkim and Rajasthan, he decided to give cross country a shot. But his interest quickly veered into steeplechase. Barely two years after making that switch, he remarkably managed to break a long-standing record.
“I just began by training casually and started working on my jumps. When I started running with the hurdles I realised I had potential. I have worked really hard since last year and was very confident of breaking the record today. I know it’s a very old record but I backed myself to break it and that’s what has happened,” Sable told The Indian Express.
The national record will give him some respite after the agony of missing out an Asian Games spot due an ankle injury. Sable had practiced six hours a day under national coach Nikolai Snesarev for the event, but an ankle fracture just a couple of months ahead of the qualifying event in Guwahati ruined his plans. He failed to make the cut for Asiad, managing 8:49.25s for a fourth-place finish.
“I hadn’t fully recovered for the qualifying event but gave it a shot because Asian Games is a once in a lifetime opportunity. But due to the injury, I couldn’t give my best. It was disheartening because I had practiced hard for the event. But it’s fine, as an athlete you must learn to move on,” Sable said with a strain in his voice. Ever since the news of his new record went viral on the social media, his phone has been buzzing with notifications. After the customary phone call to his parents, the rest of the evening was spent in replying to congratulatory messages.
“My parents have very little idea about steeplechase. They have never seen me compete. I am not sure though, but I think they followed my race on the live streaming on the federation website,” he said. Although his parents may have got a glimpse of his race, Saini had no clue about what had transpired at the Kalinga Stadium until he received the call.
The restaurateur, who runs Olympia in Jaipur, was ecstatic on learning about his record being broken.
“I am really happy that my record has been rewritten after so many years. But at the same time I am actually disappointed that it took 37 years for someone to do it. In foreign nations, records get updated in every three or four years, but sadly that’s not the case here. I have always encouraged athletes I know to train and outdo me,” Saini said.
Dharun, Arpinder on the mark
Asiad gold medallists triple jumper Apinder Singh and hurdler Dharun Ayyasamy justified their top billing by winning their respective events. Singh went easy with a best jump of 16.62m, which was enough to outdo Arivu Selvam (16.22m) and Navjot Singh (16.06m) for the top spot. It was day to remember for Dharun, as he rewrote the previous meet record of 50.16 set last season with 49.67s on the clock. He was given stiff competition by MP Jabir (50.02s) and Jashanjot Singh (50.25s) who settled for the silver and bronze respectively.
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