CHENNAI: An Asiad medal, for most athletes, is a statement of intent, a platform to build on with two years to go for the Olympics. For Muhammed Anas Yahiya though, these are times of confusion. He has perhaps had the best few months of his career. At the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, Anas had become the first Indian in 60 years to run a 400m final at the Games, emulating the legendary Milkha Singh.
He would eventually go on to finish fourth, missing a medal by two-tenths of a second. Then at the Asian Games, he had won a historic silver in the men’s 400m before repeating that feat two more times, in the mixed and men’s 4x400m relay as well. But after all that, the quarter mile is considering a career switch. Back in 2016, Anas and his coach PB Jaikumar had come up with a plan that had the potential to change his career. Anas was the country’s fastest 400m runner. Jaikumar wanted him to stop doing that entirely and switch to hurdles.
“In 400m, Anas was always going to be the best in the country,” Jaikumar said. “I knew that he had the potential to win an Asiad medal. But that was it. He was going to have to improve massively to get into the final of an Olympics or World Championships. But I knew from the times he was setting when he was trying out hurdles that he had the potential to make an Olympic final.” Jaikumar ’s words make sense, at least on paper — Anas, after all, started out as a long jumper, switching to running in his teens. For that plan to be set into motion though, Anas would have to train with Jaikumar for an extended period of time and that would mean staying away from the national camp. For someone who was a vital cog of the country’s 4x400 relay team, that was a difficult choice to make.
The plan was shelved for the time being. After his fourth-place in the Commonwealth Games in April, Anas was asked to join the national camp in Patiala. Jaikumar then had asked him to stay there till the Asian Games was over and then decide on his future. That time is now here and it is time for the 24-year-old to choose. Anas though has not made up his mind. Ever since he returned home after his exploits, he had been busy with felicitation functions. He did not even get to meet Jaikumar until Friday morning. “I just got back here a couple of days ago,” he said. “The plan to switch to hurdles was always there. But I don’t know.
I have to discuss that with everyone concerned. The national camp begins in mid-October after the Open Nationals.” Jaikumar still believes that switching to hurdles is the best option for his ward. “We spoke about it when we met today (Friday) morning,” he said. “There is enough time to do this for the 2020 Olympics. We will have to prepare for 4-5 months, then participate in a test event.” Even national relay coach Basant Singh doesn’t consider it a bad idea. He though says it is not as easy as it sounds. “It is definitely not a bad idea,” he said.
“If Anas wants to try hurdles, we will hold a trial for him on the first day of the national camp. But it is not easy. Most hurdlers come into the Olympics with 4-5 years of experience. The discipline is all about rhythm, which is something that usually comes in a few months.”