Ajay Kumar Saroj's show of bravery wins hearts at Asian Indoor Games in Turkmenistan
The shining light for India so far at the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games has easily been their athletics contingent. Having registered as many as seven out of their eight medals, the track and field stars have won a total of four golds, only to be matched by Central Asian powerhouse Kazakhstan. However, one particular incident involving the country’s 1500m winner Ajay Kumar Saroj won the hearts of local Turkmenistani fans, who chanted out his name and gave him a well-deserved standing ovation.
He clocked a timing of 3:48.67 seconds to finish first, but amazingly, the 21-year-old fell down midway through the race after a collision with Qatari athlete Hamza Driouch, who nicked his legs on the way down. However, this particular fall could’ve been far more drastic. He fell agonisingly close outside the track, which could’ve actually led to his disqualification.
Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda in Ashgabat, he said, “This has never happened to me, this is the first time I’ve had to deal with something like this. He just came from behind and clipped me. After that, I just tangled my legs and fell. It was one of the scariest moments in my career, but luckily it was a small 200m track and I could catch up."
He added, "I’m not happy with my timing, I have touched 3:36 in training, so my target is that for the Asian and Commonwealth Games.”
However, the most surreal part of the evening was during Ajay’s lap of honour. The entire Ashgabat crowd stood on their feet and shouted ‘A-jay, A-jay, India, India,’ which excited the small Indian fan contingent, who waved the tricolour with all their might.
Ajay’s coach Jasvinder Singh said, “I had my heart in my mouth when he fell, it was not because he fell, but where he fell, one more inch to the right and he would’ve been disqualified. Asian Indoor Games gold medal is good, but our target is much higher for the Asian and Commonwealth Games.”
The lap of honour also resulted in the crowd attempting to jump the fence and shake Ajay’s hand, much to the security’s anger. This particular moment was also captured by several local photographers, who will be carrying it as one of their headline pictures.
One photojournalist from the Turkmenistan State TV, Alte Rehmedov said, “This was one of the best moments of the games so far, we will definitely try to highlight it as much as possible.” Local Turkmenistan media hounded Ajay after the race, asking him questions such as ‘how did he do it?’ and ‘Has he trained for something like this before?”.
Regardless of the medal tally here in Ashgabat, Ajay Saroj’s magnificent 1500m run will be etched in Turkmenistani sporting folklore for a long time to come.