MUMBAI: As the countdown to the finish line started, with the 500m mark displayed in bold, Nitendra Singh Rawat couldn’t resist looking at his watch every few steps. He was not just chasing the qualifying time for the World Championship, which will take place in Doha in October, but was also striding towards a new course record. While Rawat missed out on the latter by four seconds, he made it to the finish line, tired and uncomfortable, just in time to book a place at the World event.
Rawat was the top finisher at the Tata Mumbai Marathon on Sunday as he completed the 42.195 km race in 2 hours, 15 minutes and 52 seconds before collapsing on the finish line. The World Championship qualification standard was set at 2:16.
“I was feeling very uncomfortable out there; I kept looking at my watch because I just wanted to get done with the race,” said Rawat. “I think I put too much honey in my recovery drinks, which I was sipping on every five kilometres. It made me really uncomfortable and I had a claggy feeling in my throat throughout.”
Though Rawat could not beat the course record of 2:15:48, which he set in 2016, he redeemed his status as the country’s premier marathoner. Rawat, who had been the first marathoner to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics, saw his hopes shattered as he was shackled by a hamstring injury in Brazil. He was in rehab for a year but has worked hard for the past year to renew his bid for the Tokyo Games.
The defending men’s champion at the Mumbai Marathon, T Gopi, who had started the race as the favourite finished second at 2:17.03. He suffered from cramps at the 35-km mark and might have to wait a little longer to find a spot in the World Championships. Karan Singh was third at 2:20.10.
In the women’s field, Sudha Singh was in blazing form on a smoggy Sunday morning in the city. She ran a personal best of 2:34.56, which was well under the course record (2:37.29 by OP Jaisha in 2015) and the World Championship qualification mark (2:37). The leading Indian lady from start to finish, Sudha was also eighth overall.
“I could have pushed more but I wasn’t wearing a watch,” said Sudha after the race.While Sudha has previously done well in marathons, she specializes in the 3000m steeplechase. She won gold at the 2010 Asian Games in the event, and a silver eight years later in Jakarta. And the athlete may have to choose between the events if she qualifies for both at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“There is an increased workload because of the marathon,” said Sudha, who has been training under Rawat’s coach Surender Singh for the past one year.“But steeplechase is my main event. Competing in a marathon means I don’t have to worry too much on my endurance. I have to work more on speed and strength for steeplechase.”
Overall Elite Men: Cosmas Lagat (KEN) 02:09:15; Aychew Bantie (ETH) 02:10:05; Shumet Akalnew (ETH) 02:10:14. Overall Elite Women: Worknesh Alemu (ETH) 02:25:45; Amane Gobena (ETH) 02:26:09; Birke Debele (ETH) 02:26:39.
Indian Men: Nitendra Singh Rawat 02:15:52 (IND); Gopi Thonakal (IND) 02:17:03; Karan Singh (IND) 02:20:10. Indian Women: Sudha Singh 02:34:56; Jyoti Gawte 02:45:48; Jigmet Dolma 03:10:42