Avinash Sable has experienced extreme weather like very few have. He has been on duty in places where the temperature is -30 degree centigrade. For almost two years he was posted as a havildar with the Indian army in the Siachen glacier. His next transfer was to a small cantonment in the desert town of Lalgarh Jattan, near the Pakistan border in Rajasthan. In summer temperatures soars to 48 degrees. Both were not ideal locations for the youngster who loved to run.
Twelve kilometres just to get to school and back is the distance Sable covered when he was in Class I. He is from Madhva village in Beed district of central Maharashtra, region which has produced hardy runners. Sable, however, hadn’t joined the army as a sports recruit. Havildars in border areas have to man outposts.
The 24-year-old has made up for lost time. In two years since he first underwent formal coaching after being selected for sports training during an army cross-country run, the 3000m steeplechaser has broken the national record twice. On Monday, at the Federation Cup National Senior Athletics Championships, Sable won the gold at 8:28.94, an improvement on the 8:29.80 he clocked at the Open Nationals in Bhubaneswar last September.
He qualified for both the Asian Championships and the World Championships, a performance which silenced his detractors. Sable went through a tough period recently. He had to skip the Asian Games because of an ankle injury. The training routine of Belarusian coach Nikolai Snesarev, a taskmaster know to push athletes to their limits, didn’t suit Sable. After setting the national mark last year, Sable decided to sever ties with Snesarev and return to his army coach Amrish Kumar.
Since December, Kumar and Sable have worked towards building endurance and regaining speed. The trust between the two worked wonders for Sable. Running came naturally to him. All he needed was a coach who valued his raw talent.
“School was six kilometers away from home. There was a road but there was no public transport. So I would run or walk all the way. About 12 kilometers at the age of six,” Sable said.
Beed is a drought-prone area. His parents Mukund and Vaishali grew millet and wheat on their farm, but the family struggled to make ends meet. The way out for Sable, to uplift his family and hold a steady job, was to join the Indian army. At 18 he was attached to the Mahar infantry regiment. That meant he would be uprooted from Beed and sent nearly 2000 kilometers away to Siachen. The boy, who had learned to live with drought, was unprepared for this first tryst with freezing snow.
“The temperatures were sub-zero. I am an army man and I won’t complain but I had never seen snow in my life and here there was only snow for miles. I was far away from home, I could not call my parents as there was no network, I was the junior most. I didn’t know who to talk to. It was tough, from Beed to Siachen you can imagine what I felt. I had never experienced such cold weather,” Sable said.
The dust storms in Lalgarh Jattan, his next posting, and the lack of proper plain running tracks in Sikkim where he moved, later on, meant he had to shelf his dream of becoming a runner. Five years after first becoming a havildar, Sable participated in a cross country race in Hyderabad conducted by the army. He was fortunate coach Kumar, the selector, didn’t throw him out because he was overweight.
The five-foot-seven-inch athlete weighed 76 kilograms yet managed to finish eighth – only the top 12 are selected for the training camp in Hyderabad, which is a feeder service for the Army Sports Institute in Pune.
Under coach Kumar, he lost nearly 20kg in three months. “I kept him away from oily food. He hadn’t joined the army as a sportsperson but he proved he had the talent by finishing in the top-12 despite being overweight. That in itself was an indicator that he had potential,” Kumar said. Once Sable got into shape, Kumar decided to let him join the national camp where Snesarev became his coach. But when things didn’t go his way, he returned to the safety net of his army coach. There were critics who believed that Sable was too soft to handle the tough training regimen of the Belarusian. The murmurs had begun of his career going into a tailspin. The record-breaking gold on Monday was much needed.
“When I broke the national record, I was still training with Snesarev. Once I left his camp, people said that I would not be able to come close to 8 minutes and 29 seconds. So today my aim was to do a sub 8:29 because it also the world championships qualifying standard,” Sable, who has been promoted to a sepoy, said.
Amrish likes to think that the worst is over. “He had the potential to win a medal at the Asian Games, but things didn’t work out. He has made a strong comeback today. He will continue to lower his timings. This could be the start of a wonderful phase for Sable.”
Shankar Lal Swami (8:34.66), who won the silver in the steeplechase, will join Sable at the Asian Championships in Doha. Others athletes who made the cut were Jinson Johnson, who won the 1,500m gold with a timing of 3:41.57, and the second and third place finishers, Ajay Kumar Saroj and Rahul who too went below the guideline set at 3:46.00. Arokia Rajiv (45.73 seconds) in the men’s 400m and Swapna Burman in the heptathlon (5901 points) also made the grade.
Hima Das the Under-20 World Champion, on a comeback trail after taking six weeks off to appear for her examinations, won the gold in the women’s 400 metres at 52.88 but didn’t meet the guidelines.
Gopi qualifies for Worlds
PTI adds: Asian marathon champion Gopi Thonakal qualified for the World Athletics Championships to be held in Doha in September-October after finishing 11th in the Seoul International Marathon.