GOLD COAST : Muhammed Anas would have loved to wrap this medal up and send it to his mother in Nilamel, a vil lage near Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. That’s a ritual he follows so that his mother Sheena doesn’t miss him when he is away. The Commonwealth Games medal would have been something special. If only he was 0.2 seconds faster, he would have won a historic bronze. It took 60 years for a male athlete to reach the 400m final at the Games after the legendary Milkha Singh in Melbourne in 1958. For a sportsperson, anything less than a medal is heart-wrenching.
Anas was looking at Isaac Makwala, Baboloki Thebe and Javon Francis, draped in their national flags, taking a victory lap after the final at Carrara Stadium. Makwala and Thebe from Botswana won gold and silver, Francis the bronze. Anas finished fourth — the cruellest spot in sport. His mood was sombre as he walked up to the mixed zone. He sat on a chair, looked forlorn as he gazed through the moist air and slowly removed his boots. He was panting, more in disbelief than for the energy expended. He knows that on such a stage, you get one crack at history. Makwala, hours before the final, had predicted he would be dangerous in an Instagram post. It was not to be.
“It was close,” Anas said with remorse, in between deep breaths. He was not even talking about the national record. It was raining in the evening. Wet tracks can be tricky. The rain takes away the cushion and power it gives to athletes. It takes a toll on calf muscles. “It was difficult as I was not getting the push,” said Anas. “My mind was distracted because of the rain.” Interestingly, he came to Gold Coast to run the 4x400m relay. Only on March 23 did the Athletics Federation of India tell him that he would be running the individual event as well.
Anas’ run-up to the Games was quite dramatic. He had been training with his coach Jaikumar in Thiruvananthapuram after refusing to join the national camp in Patiala. Anas started out as a long-jumper, before stumbling onto 400m while trying to fill a spot left vacant by a withdrawal in a school event. He loves Kerala food and that’s one reason he usually doesn’t want to go to Patiala. More importantly, he doesn’t want to train under other coaches. “Jaikumar is my coach and I am comfortable training with him,” he said. Despite AFI requesting him to join the Patiala camp, Jaikumar refused because he has ailing parents and also because other kids are training under him.
Unlike others, Anas is in the Kerala Sports Council’s elite scheme. He uses Sports Authority of India facilities but is under the state government scheme. Anas is taking this in his stride. “I am proud of myself because I managed fourth,” he said. “That will be good for me in the future. I had to put in a lot more effort today because the track was slippery and I was cramping up.” The 24-year-old quarter-miler is targeting the Asian Games. “I think I can do better.” Sleep is the only thing he has on his mind now. “I am going to sleep. I am really tired as I had to give too much effort. In the semifinal, I ran better. If I had run that race here, I would have come third.”
Anas is an explosive runner. He runs 100m faster than sprinters in the national camp. Because of his reaction time in the semifinal — too fast and too close to a false start — he was mindful of taking off. Maybe that affected his start. However, until the straight, he was third. He fell behind to fifth before lunging for the tape at 45.31s for a national record. “My target was below 45,” he said. “I ran here for the experience. I knew I had become the first man after Milkha Singh to make the final here. But I was not thinking about it,” he said.
Hima makes final Hima Das qualified for the women’s 400m final, clocking a personal best of 51.53 sec. The 18-year-old finished third in her semifinal, but made the cut as the one of the two fastest losers. email@example.com