The doping scandal that hit the Indian women’s 4x400m relay team was a devastating blow not only for the athletes, but also for the image of the country, which won 12 medals in athletics at the Delhi Commonwealth Games and an equal number at the Guangzhou Asian Games.
Two gold in the combined haul of seven over the two competitions were won by the team of quarter-milers— the pride of the country before their fall from grace.
In the aftermath, the country couldn’t select a group of 400 metre runners considered good enough to reach the finals of the 4x400m relay at the London Olympics, and hence, opted not to send a team.
However, there’s a silver lining in the form of MR Poovamma, one of only eight Indian women athletes to have run the 400m under 52 seconds. By doing so, she joined a select list that includes one PT Usha, when she clocked 51.73 at the National Inter-state Athletics Championships in Lucknow last month.
Her steady progress can be gauged by glancing at her timings, which have improved from mid-54 to her current personal best in a span of three years. In Glasgow, she will have to compete against a field that includes the Jamaicans, which makes it tougher for her in the individual event. But in relay, which she is expected to anchor, the 24-year-old is a star in her own right.
At the Asian Athletics Championships in Pune last year, Poovamma ran the final leg to guide the women’s team to the relay gold.
Out of the shadow
The last time the Games were held in Delhi, Poovamma was in the shadow of India’s medal winners. But through consistent performance and a work ethic which is second to none, she is now the leader of the pack that includes Tintu Luka, Debashree Majumdar, Ratandeep Kaur, Anilda Thomas and Ashwini Akkunji.
Coach N Ramesh gives an insight into how Poovamma, short of competition in the run-up to the Glasgow Games, found a way to ensure she was pushed in the 400 metres — an event in which she is head and shoulders above the rest at home – by running against men.
“She has worked as hard as any other athlete in the world. If she fails to win a medal it won’t be because of lack of effort. That said, she has the ability to put in a special effort at big events,” Ramesh says.
Hampden Park will provide her the platform.