It was a tragedy that the spectacular 4x400m gold medal-winning team at the Commonwealth Games was tainted by dope. Three of that quartet – Ashwini Akkunji, Mandeep Kaur and Sini Jose – received a one-year ban on Friday.
Dev S Sukumar
I was there at the Jawarharlal Nehru Stadium on 12th October 2010, captivated by something that can perhaps never be relived. Memories of that day are still fresh – four Indian girls holding off the rest of the competition at the Commonwealth Games; the night sky was dark but the stadium was engulfed in hysterical energy, and as they hugged each other after winning the 4×400, we in the media looked at each other in amazement.
The day had brought in one gold and four bronze medals, with each athlete drawing from the energy of the packed crowd and soaring to personal bests. I looked at the crowd – fervent, worshipful, making the athletes feel like stars for the first time in their lives. Until now, only the cricketers had received such an ovation.
At the back of our minds lurked the unspeakable – dope. We hoped, fervently, that all of this was pure sport, not sullied by dirty substances. Only KP Mohan of The Hindu, looking sage-like with his beard, looked stoic, and mumbled something about Ukraine.
True, all the athletes who had won medals, on that and subsequent days, talked of the training in Ukraine. We were faced with a dilemma. Should we let rumour and suspicion soil the purity of effort? Or should we be realistic and look at India’s miserable record in failing to check doping? Every journalist knows that national camps and events leave their telltale debris – syringes, bottles, etc. You just need to look in the toilets and dustbins..
Torn between heart and mind, I wrote: “The secret lies in Ukraine.
Whatever it was about that former Soviet country — in the food, training, coaching technique — it has worked..”
Our doubts subsided after the 4×400 team won a gold at the Asian Games. Soon, the girls began to stand as ambassadors of not just sport, but of the emerging Indian woman – hailing not necessarily from the cities, but showing great courage and self-belief – and it was reckoned that this generation had finally found its heroines in a sport that deters the well-heeled.
Then, in June this year, came the bombshell – Sini Jose had tested positive, followed, surely enough, by Mandeep Kaur and Ashwini Akkunji. We expected the tears, the looks of injured innocence, the protestations. They’re all part of the show. There is just no excuse.
It’s such a shame that it had to turn out this way. I don’t feel sorry for the athletes. I just feel sorry for the sport, for the thousands who came to Nehru Stadium that day, sang their songs and danced, and the millions of others who felt pride welling up in their hearts. Indian athletics seemed to have come of age.
We were all just being sold a big lemon.
The dopers and their facilitators haven’t just cheated the country, they have cheated sport. A one-year sentence seems so timid when you think about it.