Pacemaker to Podium, 'Forced' Marathon Man Gopi Books Fairytale Rio Ticket

Published: 18th January 2016 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th January 2016 04:00 AM   |  A+A-


KOCHI: The concoction for success is incomplete without a major ingredient. Motivation. When T Gopi, havaldar in Indian Army, hustled to the starting point of Mumbai Marathon on Monday, he had that in plenty. He wanted to finish in the first three. For, that was the parting gift he could give to his teacher KP Vijaya, who shaped his initial career. Vijaya is to retire in March.

Being a novice in marathon, odds were stacked against him. He had not run the full 42km in his life. Closest was 30 km that he covers during training in Ooty. Hooked to track-racing, Gopi found road-racing less tempting. It was coach Surinder Singh’s persistence that got him to marathon. The coach had other plans.

Surinder calculated that Gopi, who specialises in 5000 and 10000m, could act as pacemaker and help his two other wards, Nitendra Singh Rawat and Kheta Ram, get better. “Run as much as 26 km and then you can retire,” was the advice for the 27-year-old. Rawat had recently qualified for the Rio Olympics and was looking to better his time. Ram was trying to find a slot in the quadrennial gala. The cut-off mark was 2:19.

Contrary to the coach’s expectations, Gopi held on and astonishingly completed the race, clocking 2:16:15 to finish second behind Rawat, who stopped the clock at 2:15:48. Veteran Kheta finished third. Though Rawat claimed top spot, all eyes were on the Kerala lad, who came as pacemaker and ended up on the podium.

“This is the moment of my life,” said Gopi. Though he tried to control excitement, emotions got the better of him. “The Rio qualification should be dedicated to my physical education teacher, who kept me in her house from class VIII to plus two so that my training didn’t suffer. Her husband died two years ago and so did her son. I’m like a son to her and whatever I achieve is due to her,” Gopi told Express.

Vijaya took care of Gopi when he joined Kakkavayal Govt School in Wayanad. “From my house in Sultan Bathery to school is a long journey. It was then that she took me under her wings.”

Gopi says he will concentrate on marathon till Rio, as his interest lies on the track. “Olympic qualification isn’t a small thing and I would like to get better. But track remains my first love.”

Though he isn’t very optimistic, Gopi felt clocking 2:7 to 2:10 can fetch a respectable position in Rio. “I can easily run below 2:13. But if I lower it further, I can earn a decent place.”

However, Gopi feels financial crunch will affect preparations. “I’m spending more than half my salary on training. Shoes, kit, diet... it’s a costly affair. In between, I’ve to take care of family and repay the loans I had taken for renovating the house. If selected to Target Olympic Podium Scheme, I’d be very happy,” he signed off.

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