CHENNAI: As he dragged his weary body to the mixed zone, soon after his record-breaking run in the 400m event at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, Muhammed Anas Yahiya struggled to put his thoughts into words. Maybe it was that the damp Gold Coast air wasn’t exactly what his hyperventilating lungs needed then or that his brain was struggling to process questions being fired from all corners in unfamiliar languages. Or maybe he was still trying to digest that he had missed, what would have been a pathbreaking medal, by one-fifth of a second.
A week since his return to India, Anas is more composed and more eloquent than the monosyllabic youngster flashing smiles at frustrated journalists. He has seen replays of his race over and over again. The ending though remains the same every time. “I don’t know,” he says. “Every time I see it, I think I could have done this differently or that. I could have won bronze. I called up my mother after the race and she told me that it was okay. Do better next time.”
The Asian Games is next but preparations for that haven’t started well. In the run-up to Gold Coast, Anas preferred to not join the national camp in Patiala and instead train with his coach PB Jaikumar in Kerala. “I am in Patiala now,” Anas says. “I came straight here and I don’t think I will get to go home before the Asian Games. So yea, by the time I get to go home, it would have been an almost an year.” “No, Jaikumar sir is not here,” he confirms the inevitable. “He can’t leave Kerala right now. I had requested that I be allowed to train in Kerala under him.
We will have to see what happens after the Asian Games since I am working with a new coach.” The switch has meant a significant change of plan for Anas. Jaikumar had seen, as far back as 2016, a hurdler who could make an Olympic final in Anas. “He could do even better in hurdles,” Jaikumar says. “The way he was going, we could have expected an Asian Games medal and a final qualification in the Tokyo Olympics.” Now that plan is on freeze since no one apart from Jaikumar appears to envision Anas as a hurdler. “I have told him to be at the camp till the Asian Games.
After that, he is free to decide what he wants to do. If he wants to train away from them at his own risk, he is more than welcome to return to me.” he said. While it is easy to paint the Athletics Federation of India as the villain of the piece, their officials say that the organisation is not as dictatorial as they are made out to be. “We don’t force athletes to do anything,” said AFI secretary CK Valson. “It’s not that we want every athlete to be at the national camp and nowhere else. We just want the relay team to practice together and Anas is part of that relay team. That is why he was asked to join the camp in Patiala.”