What’s the story?
When Lalita Babar qualified for the finals of the 3000m steeplechase, she became the first Indian woman athlete in 32 years to make it to a track final at the Olympics. However, she finished tenth, clocking 9:22.74 in the finals, almost three seconds slower than her credible national record effort of 9:19.76 in the qualification.
Considering the same effort, Adille Sumariwalla, the AFI President, went on to state that the athlete’s performance at the Rio Olympics was equivalent to winning a medal for the country in the track and field event.
“I want people to understand that I am not trying to belittle other sports but in badminton and shooting about 30 countries participate while in wrestling there are 20-odd countries that compete, however, when it comes to athletes, 214 countries take part. So for Lalita Babar to have finished in the top 10 is as good as winning a medal of sorts.”
He further added, “Plus, when you look at other sports, there are certain barriers in terms of the equipment or facilities one requires but if you consider athletics it is very open. Anybody can run and jump, in fact, you can even run barefoot. Thus, the level of competition also is way more than what is prevalent in other sports.”
In case you didn’t know...
Lalita Babar’s run at the Olympics was the best performance by an Indian in a track event after PT Usha's fourth-place finish in the 400m hurdles in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Prior to this, Babar had left her mark on the global map of athletics with her eighth-place finish at the World Championships in Beijing in 2015.
Thus, when Adille Sumariwalla, the president of the Athletics Federation of India was questioned regarding a dearth of Olympic medals when it comes to Indian athletics despite the country sending it’s biggest ever contingent to the event, he had an all-together different point of view.
The heart of the matter
India has not won an Olympic medal in athletics so far, and when Lalita Babar qualified for the finals of the 3000m steeplechase event at the Rio Olympics, the nation rested its hopes on the 26-year-old from Satara.
However, the young athlete could only manage a tenth-place finish with a timing of 9 minutes and 22 seconds in the finals of the event which was won by Kenyan-born Ruth Jebeth of Bahrain in 8:59.75.
India is slowly making inroads into world athletics, but there is miles to go in terms of coaching, facilities, and competing on the global level before we can achieve our dream of winning medals and laurels for the country at the Olympics.
However, there is no doubt that the national federations are taking steps in the right direction in order to achieve that goal and athletes like Lalita Babar serve as an inspiration to those still in the pipeline for the future.Published 09 Jan 2017, 20:45 IST