NEW DELHI: Dharun Ayyasamy literally LOLs when asked whether he thought he could break the national record thrice within a span of one year.
It’s been over 50 hours since he broke the men’s 400m hurdles mark again at the Federation Cup in Patiala, but he maintains he still has no clue how he clocked 48.80 seconds. “I don’t know how I finished in 48.80,” he chuckles.
What he did a couple of seconds after taking the tape offers a clue. While other athletes are usually on the phone to post their achievements on Instagram and Snapchat, the 23-year-old dashed across the track to seek the blessings of Galina Bukharina, India’s 400m national coach.
Ayyasamy, who qualified for the World Championships with that time, says the credit goes to the Russian. “She completely changed my running technique. Earlier, I would take 14 steps (per hurdle) to cover the first five hurdles. Now, I take 14 for the first eight and so on.”
Ayyasamy isn’t the only one to have benefitted from Bukharina since she took charge almost 20 months ago. Two more — Muhammad Anas and Hima Das — have either surpassed their own national records or broken existing marks under her. Anas hadn’t been with the camp full time as he preferred to train under his personal coach before he was forced to join others.
To understand why Bukharina’s wards have been successful in a very short timeframe — the above-mentioned three, between them, have created eight new marks (including erasing their own records) in less than 12 months — is difficult. Arokia Rajiv, another one of Bukharina’s students, tries to explain. “A lot of coaches have asked us to take rest if there is no training but she isn’t like that,” Rajiv, who beat Anas for the 400m gold on Monday, says.
“She encourages us to walk during those sessions. ‘Go outside, see nature and live a little this way’, is what she always tells. She tells this because her theory is that ‘when you walk, your mind goes to a happier place and it aids in the recovery process.’”
That doesn’t mean she always adopts the carrot approach. “One or two times she has used the hair-dryer,” Ayyasamy says. “‘If you are not interested, you can go home. Why should the Indian government spend money on people who show no interest?’” That tallies with how she introduced herself to the group when she met them first.
“I know India is a democracy but for you guys, I’m going to be a dictator,” one athlete said on the condition of anonymity. On another occasion, she pushed back a training session because the track was filled with garbage. “She said there would be no training till we cleaned the track. Only after we deposited the rubbish on the side did she start her session,” said the same athlete.
The level of planning, organisation and putting the needs of athletes up front has also played a huge role. The 400m squad is the only contingent with three physios and two masseurs. The team also knows what they will do every day till the day the World Championships begin in September. After a week in Doha for the Asian Championships in April, they will train in Yokohama for three weeks before jetting off to Poland for a three-month trip.
They will use this as a base for travelling to European meets before going back to Doha in September. Fourteen 400m members (seven men and seven women) will be part of this trip. Will it yield the desired results? If the last 20 months is anything to go by, don’t bet against it.
What’s eating Hima?
One member of the 400m contingent — Hima Das — is feeling the heat. After she took first place on Monday, she was almost in tears as she was receiving treatment around the back area. When asked what the issue was, she gave a cryptic response. “I have been injured for sometime... I will tell you later how it happened.” She wanted to solve the issue earlier this year but couldn’t as she was writing her Class XII exams.