CHENNAI: Having taken up athletics only a year-and-a-half ago, not many would have expected Sreekiran Nandakumar to scale new heights so soon in his fledgling career. But the Coonoor native hogged the limelight when he won the 800 m gold in the Youth Olympics Games’ Asian Area Athletics qualification meet in Bangkok. That helped him book a spot for the Youth Olympics, which will be held in Argentina in October. Sreekiran clocked a personal best of 1:50:93 sec, beating Asian junior champion Anu Kumar.
The 16-year-old’s journey has not been a cakewalk. With his family finding it difficult to make ends meet, it was the alumni association of Sreekiran’s school — St Joseph’s Boys Anglo-Indian Higher Secondary School — in Nilgiris that pooled in money to fund him. His mother is a housewife, and his father had to quit his job after his health deteriorated. Despite difficulties back home, consistency has been Sreekiran’s mantra. After winning silver in Khelo India School Games and gold at the state youth championships, he bagged silver in the Federation Cup in April. Bad luck struck in June, when migraine forced him to drop out of the Asian Junior Championship.
Credit goes to his 23-year-old coach Mohamed Azarudeen, who first spotted him at a school meet last April. Azarudeen is a former state-level 800 m runner and a BCom graduate. He was unable to continue his career in athletics due to financial constraints. That motivated him to bring out the best in Sreekiran and train him free of cost. “Everyone was seeing Anu as the favourite since he had done well at the Asian Juniors. But we used something called as a ‘player strategy’,” said Azarudeen, who is preparing for a Level 1 coaching exam that he will write later this year.
“We analysed videos of Anu and found that his biggest strength was speed. Kiran’s strength is endurance. Hence, two weeks before the tournament, we concentrated solely on improving Kiran’s speed. During the race, Anu led for 750m. But Kiran’s preparation helped him take the lead in the final stretch.” Azarudeen feels that high-altitude training in Nilgiris will help Sreekiran do well at the Youth Olympics.
“We will conduct a three-month camp in Bengaluru before the event. Training in the hills in a pollution-free environment — conditions that are very similar to that in Argentina — will help Kiran. If he can shave off two more seconds from his personal best, he will be a sure-shot contender for a medal.”