Gavit Murali Kumar passed a test on Sunday when he beat G Lakshmanan, India’s biggest 10,000-metre star in recent years. Wearing a neon-green race jersey, Laxmanan, stayed in the slipstream of the leading pack till the final round, but with 200 metres to go, attempted to accelerate. But he lost steam and fell behind only to watch Gavit surge ahead with Abhishek Paul and Kalidas Hirave following him to podium finishes. The top five made the cut for the Asian Championships with Gavit clocking 29:21.99. He was short of his personal best (28:43.34) but there was a symbolic passing of the baton, when he got the better of Laxmanan, someone he had never beaten till Sunday.
Gavit is also anxiously awaiting the results of another test he’d appeared recently. The 21-year-old from Dang in Gujarat is yet to clear his English paper. He candidly admits that he has made more than one attempt at getting ‘pass marks’. “Once I pass my Class 12 examinations I can get a government job. English is the only paper I am yet to clear. That will be a big relief for me,” he said.
Life has been far from a bed of roses for the athlete from a tribal family. He first took part in a 5K event at the district level because he got to know that the winner would be awarded Rs 5,000. Soon he was running both the 5K and 10K, making more money than he had seen in his whole life.
Gavit’s journey was filled with hurdles. So poor was his family that he used to help laying roads near his village, squeezing time between training and school. For a full day’s work, he was paid Rs 150. After he gave his Class X examinations, he worked for nearly two months laying roads under the blazing sun. Nowadays, his feet are cushioned by the soles of high-quality running shoes, but he remembers a time he couldn’t afford a normal shoes. “A pair of good running shoes costs Rs 5000 at least. I could never afford such things. I am from a tribal family and you know how tough things are for us. Running has brought me to where I am today. It is the only thing I have an interest in,” Gavit said.
Things started looking brighter when he won the Khel Mahakumb organised by the Gujarat government, which made him eligible for a stipend of nearly `5,000 a month. As he went from strength to strength, his financial worries eased to an extent. A gold medal at the Gouden Spike meet in the Netherlands last year was a shot in the arm because being an international medal winner, Gavit got a scholarship worth `25 lakh under the Shaktidoot Scheme.
He ensured that the money was put to good use by training in Kenya, the breeding ground of some of the best long-distance runners in the world. “I just finished a three-month stint in Kenya. I had geared all my training towards the Asian Athletics Championships. In the 10k today, my target was 28:50 but I could not achieve it because my muscles were feeling a little tight after running the 5000 metres two days ago.”
The double gold – he clocked 13:54.98 to win the 5,000 metres – has made it a memorable Fed Cup for the long distance runner, who has emerged as a medal prospect at the Asian Championships in April. ‘Pass marks’ in English is the only boost he needs now.