Breaking national records in the 3000 metre steeplechase is no longer a novelty for Lalita Babar — she’s done it thrice in two years. Yet her latest endeavour at the World Athletics Championships in Beijing has put her among the top 20 in the world. Clocking 9:27.86 during the heats on Monday has promoted the 26-year-old to 19th best in this year’s best timings, a push up by 11 paces.
Fourth in the second heats held at the Bird’s Nest, her finish was good enough for her to qualify for the finals. She qualified for the final round as one of the six fastest timers outside three top finishers in each of the three heats who got automatic qualification. In sheer timings, she was eighth among
Improving her best by almost seven seconds since June’s Asian Championships (9:34.13), Babar’s feat has also given her the distinction of becoming the first Indian woman athlete to qualify for the final of a running track event on the world stage. In fact, only Inderjeet Singh (men’s shot put), Anju Bobby George (women’s long jump), and Vikas Gowda (men’s discuss throw) have reached the finals of their event at the world event.
Previously, PT Usha , KM Beenamol, Tintu Luka have made the semis after clearing the heats. Babar, the girl from Sahyadri’s foothills in Maharashtra, will run in the finals on Wednesday.
However, for the 26-year-old to be considered a challenger for a podium finish, athletics commentator Rahul Pawar opines that the runner has to shave off seven more seconds from her timing.
“To be among the medal contenders, one needs to run under 9:20,” he says. Nonetheless, the fastest timing recorded at the heats was 9:24.38 by Tunisia’s Habiba Ghribi.
Incidentally, of the 15 athletes that have qualified for the final of the steeplechase event, Babar’s timing has her slotted as eighth fastest on the list. “If she finishes in the top eight in the final, then that would make her a world class steeplechase runner,” Pawar adds.
No stranger to hard work
Hailing from Satara, the drought prone Sahyadri region of Maharashtra, Babar is no stranger to hard work. With her parents as farmers and the terrain being rendered difficult for agriculture, the toil during her youth has given her body the ability to recover faster than most. This aspect also aids her versatility as the 5’6″ steeplechaser used to train in the 10,000 metre race along with the 42.195 km marathon.
Yet ever since she has begun specialising in the steeplechase event, Pawar has noticed a significant improvement.
“Lalita has sharpened her posture, rhythm of pace and composure. She’s covered plenty of miles in the training which made her bettered prepared. She’s also got this single minded focus on her training and firm faith in her ability that she can take on any challenge,” explains Pawar.
Important to her training regime was the rigidity her coach Dr Nikolai Snesarev brought to her preparation program.
The experienced master tactician conducted his training at a secluded facility in Coonor with only Babar, OP Jaisha and Sudha Singh as his wards. The standard camp in New Delhi was given a miss for the high-altitude set-up in order to not undo the skill the athletes had gained.
The strict training program earned her the fastest finish she has managed in her career so far. What she does in the final though will determine if she is world class.