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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Heptathlete with six toes returns to competition, wins gold

Swapna Barman resurfaces after four years of struggle against injuries in the oblivion; is grateful her three precious customised spikes aren't overused.

Written by Andrew Amsan | Kozhikode |
Updated: April 6, 2022 7:22:19 am
At the Federation Cup this week, her first major competition since 2019, Swapna marked her return with a gold, accumulating 5800 points. (Express Photo)

Frustrated with nagging injuries, 2018 Asian Games champion heptathlete Swapna Barman had announced her retirement last September. Since the Asian triumph, she took part in the heptathlon competition just once until last week. Just when everyone thought Swapna’s career was all but over, she made a surprise return at the Inter-Railway championships at Kolkata in March where she bagged a silver medal.

At the Federation Cup this week, her first major competition since 2019, Swapna marked her return with a gold, accumulating 5800 points. But even for Swapna, who is used to facing adversities on and off the track, this was one of the most challenging competitions of her career. It wasn’t the competitors that were testing her but a draining bout with food poisoning.

During her high jumps event on Monday, Swapna threw up at least a couple of times at the ground and made quick sprints to the washroom almost half a dozen times between her attempts.

“I have gotten a good competition after such a long time, so quitting wasn’t an option. I have been eating boiled food for a long time. The food here didn’t suit my body. Even today my tummy is in such bad shape. I have taken so much medication for diarrhoea and vomiting in the last few days. It was jutting a lot at the start of my final event (800m),” says Swapna, who almost limped onto the field clenching her tummy ahead of the race.

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Swapna, who has six toes on both her feet, came into the limelight after bagging gold at the 2018 Asian Games with a bandaged jaw due to a gum infection. Life turned around for Swapna and her family who come from a very humble background. “Becoming popular has caused me as much harm as it has done good to me,” she says. Swapna was hinting at a raid by forest department officials conducted at Swapna’s home in Jalpaiguri for alleged illegal possession of timber.

Preserving three pairs

The lull after the Asian high has taught Swapna tough life lessons. She was made big promises when she had retired with the gold around her neck from Jakarta but not many have kept their word. “Promises? That is the one word I don’t like to hear,” she says after a loud sarcastic laugh.

Swapna had often complained about pain in her foot as her sixth toe would push against generically designed spikes. But sporting giants Adidas flew her to Germany to design a customised shoe for her with enough breathing space for her toes. “My feet don’t hurt anymore so that is a huge relief,” she says. But since she is no more sponsored by them, she has just three pairs of non-replaceable customised spikes. She feels it’s a blessing in disguise that she hasn’t competed much in the last few years. “The shoes are still in good condition,” she says.

Swapna says it was her coach Subhas Sarkar and Sports Authority of India officials that convinced her to give the sport another chance. “They told me that every athlete has to retire one day but why not retire on a high. So I am back and I want to take another shot at the Asian and Commonwealth Games. It is an important year for me,” she says.

Chanda makes Asian Games cut

Chanda clocked her personal best of 2:02.11s in the 800m to make the cut for Asian Games as per AFI’s qualification guidelines. The Delhi runner’s effort also puts her among the top ten in the India all-time list. In the men’s discus throw Kirpal Singh of Punjab rewrote a 22-year-old meet record with a best attempt of 61.38m. But the throw did not meet AFI’s qualification standards for the CWG and Asian Games.

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