Updated: August 19, 2021 8:17:25 am
Less than a month ago, Bharat Sridhar was nursing a ligament injury in his left ankle which put his participation in the World U20 Championship in doubt.
In June, the 18-year-old from Viluppuram district in Tamil Nadu tested positive for Covid-19 and missed nearly a month of practice.
Sridhar made it to Nairobi despite a medical doctor telling him he would have to sit at home. Physios at the national camp in Patiala strapped his ankle and worked their magic to get him on the plane. The coaches managed his workload smartly.
Sridhar didn’t run the 4x400m mixed relay heats but the Indian team management in Nairobi placed their faith in him for the final. He pushed his body to the limit, unmindful of aggravating an injury to give the Indian team a solid start.
— Asianet Newsable (@AsianetNewsEN) August 18, 2021
Sridhar in Lane 3 began the baton-run for India which would end with a bronze medal for the 4×400 metres mixed relay team at the junior world championships. From Sridhar to Priya Mohan, from Priya to Summy and from Summy to Kapil, the surge of this young Indian team that left the Jamaicans trailing in fourth place gave track and field another famous moment to cherish less than a fortnight after Neeraj Chopra’s historic javelin gold at the Tokyo Olympics.
The timing of 3:20.60 of the junior team wasn’t way off the mark set by the senior squad at the Tokyo Olympics (3:19.93).
An abridged schedule in Nairobi made it tougher for those participating in multiple events. The six-day event was crunched into five days at the 11h hour. World Athletics said the change was necessitated because of ‘the impact of Covid on teams travelling and logistics of moving vital equipment around the world’.
The final tested the will and physical conditioning of the two women in the team. Priya and Summy were running their third 400 metre race of the day, after the women’s individual heats and the qualification round of the relay.
“The first race was ok, but after that the physiotherapist helped us a lot to recover. We went to the hotel and had a nice lunch and then we prepared our minds,” Priya, who has qualified for the individual final, said.
Priya helped the team nose into third place, Summy maintained the spot and at one point nearly got past the Polish athlete in second place.
Kapil, running the anchor leg, was on the shoulder of the Nigerian and Polish teams with 200 metres to go. Though the top two surged ahead in the final stretch, Kapil must be credited for not losing steam and keeping the Jamaicans at bay.
Kapil said after the race that he was going all out and not just trying to hold onto third spot. “In my mind, I was trying to win gold,” he said.
On an emotional day for the team, Sridhar’s mind went back to the time when he injured his ankle because he wasn’t used to training regularly on a synthetic track. “In Ambattur, I train with my coach Pugezhendhi on a mud track which is just 200 metres long. So when I came to the national camp, I got injured running on a synthetic track. The curve of the 200 metres track is smaller compared to a 400 metres track and that also takes time to get used to,” Sridhar said.
The biggest take away from the first day of the U20 championship is India’s proven bench strength ready to graduate to a higher level, a good sign with three major senior competitions – including the world championships – lined up for next year.
“Since we have not won a medal in athletics ever (at the Olympics), the whole thought was ‘that we have done everything but we can’t win a medal’. And with Neeraj showing that you can win a medal, youngsters have self- confidence. Otherwise, we always felt that ‘are we missing something’ which other countries have. This (Chopra’s gold medal) has removed a huge mental block from Indian athletes,” Athletics Federation of India president Adille Sumariwala said from Nairobi.
This edition of the junior world championships, however, has a depleted field. Some of the top nations have pulled out, including the United States, Britain, Germany, Australia and Japan. But for a nation starved of medals at major championships for years, every podium finish calls for celebration.
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