CHENNAI: The average age of Indian athletes winning international medals has reduced of late. Sprinter Hima Das and shooter Saurabh Chaudhary are examples. Taking up sports at a young age and with the right people to guide them, these teenagers have already established themselves. Along with talent and hard work, a pinch of luck too played a part.
Not everyone gets that privilege. Gomathi Marimuthu will agree. The Asian Athletics Championships starting in Doha on Sunday will only be the third international event for the 800m runner who is 30. She took to sports seriously when she was 20. While she did take part in school events, it was her friend Shruthi from Holy Cross College in Tiruchy, who inspired her to take it to the next level. “When I was growing up, there was no one to tell me that I can make a living out of sports. I never understood the significance until I joined college. I just wanted to get a job and support my family,” she told this newspaper.
Hailing from an agricultural background in Tiruchy, Gomathy has two siblings — an elder brother and sister. But she was the only one to go to college. Naturally, she wanted to give back to her family, who sacrificed a lot for her. She got a job with Income Tax in Bengaluru and started training regularly. Her hard work bore fruit as she got selected for the Asian Championships in Pune in 2013. Gomathi finished seventh in the 800m final. Two years later, at the same event in China, she finished fourth.
Gomathi was determined to bag a podium finish the next time. But that’s when tragedy struck. In September 2016, she lost her father to colon cancer. In December that year, she suffered a groin injury. “My life turned upside down.
My mother went into depression after dad passed away. It was very difficult to get her to do anything. The whole family was dependent on me,” she said. A few months later, her coach Gandhi, who she trained with when not in the national camp, died of a heart attack. “I had no one to train me. I had to provide for the family as well.”
For someone who started late, an injury is the worst thing that could happen. It took almost two years before Gomathi started to train again. She missed the bus to Asian Games. But she never gave up. Since the start of 2019, she started training and participating in national-level events. At the Federation Cup in March — an event that served as a selection trial for Doha — Gomathi finished first with a timing of 2.03.21.
The timing would have fetched her a gold medal at the 2017 Asian Championship in Bhubaneswar. But due to her long absence from the track, the Athletics Federation of India asked her to appear in confirmatory trials in Patiala a few days ago. While her timing dipped to 2:04.12, she was given the green signal. Third time’s charm is how the saying goes. And Gomathi hopes that it will turn out to be true in Qatar.