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Rediff.com  » Sports » Steeplechaser Sudha Singh confident ahead of Rio

Steeplechaser Sudha Singh confident ahead of Rio

August 08, 2016 09:38 IST

2014 Asian Games bronze medalist and National record holder, Sudha Singh wants to make amends for a disappointing outing at the London Olympics.
The 3000m steeplechase runner told Rediff.com's Norma Godinho she is confident as ever heading into the 2016 Games.

India's 3000m steeplechaser Sudha Singh

IMAGE: India's 3000m steeplechase runner Sudha Singh. Photograph: Sudha Singh/Facebook

When Sudha Singh's tryst with the 2012 Olympics in London ended dismally, she vowed to do whatever it takes to qualify for the Games in Rio four years later.

At London, the girl from Uttar Pradesh did not get past the first round in the women's 3000m steeplechase heats, finishing a disappointing 13th with a time of 9:48.86 seconds.

Now, four years later, and at the age of 30, the National champion in the gruelling event wants to make amends and is ready to go full throttle at Rio.

The Indian athletics team left for Rio on August 6, about a week before the track and field events commence.

One part of the steeplechase trio that includes O P Jaisha and Lalita Babar, Sudha is revved up and confident about her chances.

"Heats mein main accha perform karoongi (I will do well in the heats). Main pukka finals mein pahchungi (I will surely qualify for the final)," declares the Central Railway employee from Bangalore.

Sudha's former coach at Central Railway, Melwyn Crasto, swears by her determination.

"Sudha is mentally very strong and if she sets her mind on a target she gets it done. Her determination has brought her this far. She will definitely make it to the last 6 in the final at Rio," Crasto, an athletics coach at Central Railway, said of his former ward.

Sudha Singh

IMAGE: Sudha Singh believes she can qualify for the 3000 steeplchase final at the Rio Games. Photograph: Procam Running

Crasto, who along with Nagesh Shetty trained Sudha when she joined the Railways in 2005, knows the Rae Bareilly native has the stuff of a champion in her.

"We first saw her at the National Athletics championships in 2004. We scouted her from there and we brought her to join Central Railways as a cross-country runner. But, over time, we realised that she had the basics needed for a steeplechaser -- strength, endurance and speed. We knew she had the potential; given the right training, coaching and diet, we knew she would do well. It would take 3, 4 years for her to get better."

"She improved with every event each year. She adapted well and look where she is now," says Crasto proudly.

Sudha's athletics journey commenced in school -- participating in inter-school competitions where 1500 metres and cross-country events became a routine.

"I owe my success to my parents, who always backed me. When I was in school, they, along with my teachers, ensured that I participated in all competitions," says the alumnus of the Rajki Balika inter-college (Devanandpur, Rae Bareilly).

Podium finishes and winning medals became a habit and by 2004 she was making waves at junior national events.

But, like in all success stories, there had to be a spoke in the wheel.

"I had success at a very young age which did not go down well with my neighbours. They would question my parents for supporting my sporting dreams. They did not like that my parents backed their girl child in sports. Jab koi upar jyaata hai, log use neeche kheechne main hamesha ready rehte hai (whenever people rise there are always some ready to bring to bring them down)," says Sudha.

"Now that I have come this far," she adds, "they have started to show me respect."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wishes Sudha Singh at the send-off ceremony organised for the Indian contingent for Rio Olympics 2016 on July 4

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi wishes Sudha Singh at the send-off ceremony for the Indian contingent for the Rio Olympics 2016 on July 4. Photograph: Sudha Singh/Facebook

Her ambitions started bearing fruit once she got the break in Central Railway.

"Railways job was my aim and the payment was low, but I received a lot of support from my then coaches and then sports officer the late Madhu Shiv Dutt, who continuously encouraged me and also gave me a roof over my head with a room in the Railway quarters in Parel (central Mumbai)," recalls Sudha, with clear gratitude in her voice.

By this time, a ticket checker at Mumbai's CST station, and an active athlete building new dreams along the way, her big moment came at the 2010 Asian Games, where she won gold in the steeplechase.

The girl from Rae Bareilly returned with a bronze from the 2014 Asiad and maintained steady momentum.

She proved her versatility when she was asked by the new national athletics coach, Belarusian Nikolai Snesare, to start running marathons.

She took up the challenge and consistently won medals at major marathons.

Having set records over the gruelling event she was asked by coach Snesare to run the marathon at the Rio Games. Since the suggestion created controversy, Sudha chooses to steer clear from talking about it.

Sudha SinghHaving broken two National records in the 3000m steeplechase inside a fortnight -- at the 20th Federation Cup National Athletics Championships and later at the prestigious Diamond League Meet in Shanghai earlier this year -- the coach was compelled to change his stance.

At the Federation Cup, she clocked 9:31.86 seconds, and bettered her timing by over five seconds (9:26.55s) at the prestigious Diamond Meet.

According to reports, only after plenty of convincing and the above-mentioned performances by Sudha and her teammates Babar and Jaisha, did the coach agree to let them participate in the steeplechase category at the Rio Olympics.

"We have been training for Rio for the last 18 months. It took me about two months to switch from marathon training to steeplechase training. The coach is a very disciplined man and that has had a positive impact on our performances. He doesn't spare being slack and even monitors our diet," says Sudha, adding, "He is a father figure and has brought a good change in the camp."

So what are her chances at Rio?

"After the training we have undergone, I am confident of myself for the Rio Games. Also, having already been to an Olympic Games, I have a sense of what to expect," she says confidently.

"She will qualify for the final at the Olympics," says Crasto. "She has experience from the previous Olympics, so she will not be overawed by the situation. Exposure and experience is important. That could make her more relaxed going into Rio."

Come August 13, hopefully we will see Sudha in the starting line-up, if not on the podium.

Norma Godinho / Rediff.com