KOCHI: She was the favourite to win gold in the 800 m race. At the Olympic Stadium in Seoul, nearly three decades ago, she finished first, doubled up, caught her breath and then turned back. Her nearest rival was still metres away. But then, instead of an extended jubilation at the 1986 Asian Games, Shiny Abraham confronted the most unfortunate day in her athletics career.
When the results were declared, she didn't get the gold; worse, she was disqualified.
Shiny, rather India, missed out on an assured gold because of a technical error she committed on the track. While the norm requires 800-metre runners to stick to their lane till the first 200m, Shiny juggled the tracks a little too early.
“Usually, you have a red flag to indicate the 200-metre mark. But that day, there were two flags — a yellow and a red one — beside the track. I didn't know which one was the cue. The yellow came first, so I shifted tracks,” Shiny said.
And she was wrong, paving way for a series of recurring, sleepless nights fraught with an intense sense of loss and consternation.
“Margaret Alva was the Sports Minister then. She was in Seoul with the Indian contingent and came to my room to console me. She told me, 'Shiny, you didn't lose a medal, but India did. We are all very proud of you',” recalled the now-retired Olympian, who has bagged one gold, two silver and a bronze medal from the three Asiad appearances she had in her more than a decade long career.
However, the pain of the loss was more than what Alva's words could soothe. She had been unable to sleep the whole night after the event.
“Mercy Kuttan (long jumper) was my roommate. She tried her best to comfort me. But I was distraught... shattered. I couldn't sleep or stop crying. My 400m sprint was up the next day. So my coach sent the team doctor to my room and he gave me some medicines to put me to sleep. Still, I was up all night,” said the 49-year-old, now Shiny Wilson after marrying swimmer Wilson Cherian.
Despite a night-long exhaustion, she won a silver in 400m the next day, conceding the gold to the legendary P T Usha. Before she flew home, she did win a gold, having been part of the victorious 4x400m relay team.
“Two days after the 800m event, two Korean missionaries visited me. They told me the girl who got the gold because I was disqualified was from a poor family and that God intended it that way. They told me not to worry and that I had a good life ahead,” Shiny, who held the national championship in 800m for the longest period of 14 years, said.
Life indeed has been good to Shiny. She became the first woman to carry the national flag in the Olympics, in 1992 in Barcelona, and won a Padma Sri in 1998 after the Arjuna award in 1984.