Lalita Babar, a 27-year-old long-distance runner, made headlines yet again for India in her event, 3000-meter steeplechase, at the Summer Games. She finished Heat 2 of the event with a timing of 9:19.76, which happened to be the 7th best in the entire qualification round, thus booking a berth in the finals. What makes her achievement the talk of the town is the fact that she is the first track and field finalist for India since PT Usha, who had qualified for the 1984 Games.
Born in the drought-affected Satara district of Maharashtra, Lalita Shivaji Babar belonging to a family of farmers fell in love with running at a young age when she had to run all the way to reach her school, which was four kilometers far from her home. While running to school barefoot in Kenya has given rise to a country that dominates distance running, the same has given us Lalita Babar.
The long-distance runner won her first gold medal in the under-20 National Championships back in 2005. There was no looking back since then. She completed a hattrick of Mumbai Marathon between 2012 and 2014. Just after that, Babar switched to running the 3000m steeplechase with the focus to win medals in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.
Lalita clinched the bronze at the 2014 Asian Games, that were held in Incheon, with a timing of 9:35.37. But after the disqualification of the gold medallist, she was promoted to the silver medal. She followed it up with a gold medal at the 2015 Asian Championships clocking 9:34.13 and breaking the national record. The same year,the 27-year-old Maharashtra girl became the first Indian to qualify for the final round of the 3000m steeplechase event in the World Championships, only to finish 8th, which is a huge achievement.
When it comes to Indian athletes, Milkha Singh and PT Usha always come into the picture. Both are considered as one of the greatest athletes India has ever produced.'The Flying Sikh' had an impeccable career in the late 60s but most of his medals came in the Asian Games. The same can be said about the 'The Payyoli Express' who won all her international medals in the Asian Games.
PT Usha became the first Indian woman to achieve the distinction when she made the finals of the women's 400m hurdles in 1984 at Los Angeles. However, she ended up missing out on a medal spot by the slimmest of margins – a hundredth of a second. Both of them were greats in their own right, but Lalita is not far behind when it comes to the athletics history of our country.
Wishing Lalita all the very best for the finals on 15th August, our 70th Independence Day!Published 14 Aug 2016, 00:43 IST