CHENNAI: It can safely be said that Rupal Chaudhary's tryst with 400m destiny started with a hunger strike. The promising journey, that has been creating ripples in the domestic circuit in the last two years, would not have started if not for that hunger strike in 2017. It was a mark of protest for denying her to pursue athletics as a profession.
"I always wanted to be an athlete and shared my ambition with my father Omvir Singh in 2016. He promised to take me to Kailash Prakash Stadium in Meerut after I pass my class IX final examination. However, the venue is around 18km from my village Shahpur Jainpur. Being a small-time farmer, he found it difficult to keep his words. But I sat on a hunger strike for three days after which my mother Mamta chided him which forced him to take me to the stadium," Rupal told this daily.
Four years on, Rupal is seen as one of the promising 400m runners who can replace some struggling seniors. On Tuesday she emerged the fastest female quarter-miler at the 3rd National Open 400m Championships at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, New Delhi by clocking 53.73 seconds in the girls' under-18 category. This in a year where top female quarter-milers had been struggling to go below 54sec. The 16-year-old athlete from Meerut, Uttar Pradesh not only registered her personal best but was also the fastest among all female participants including the senior women wherein her statemate Vandana Sharma bagged gold by clocking 55.01 seconds.
To put this in perspective, Bengaluru girl Priya Mohan ran the fastest 400m this year with a timing of 52.77s at the World junior athletics championships, while the senior national record is against Hima Das's name who clocked 50.79s at last Asian Games.
Earlier, Rupal cleared the trials in Meerut and progressed by leaps and bounds to ensure her family supports her despite the financial constraints. However, it all began after the coach, Vishal Saxena, did a major tweak and asked Rupal to run 400m instead of 100m. "Coach sir advised me to run 400m. I must say his advice worked wonders for me," added the quarter-miler.
Rupal's previous best of 55.37 seconds came at the National Junior Athletics Championships in Guntur in 2019. She had also broken the 33-year-old state record at the UP Athletics Championship in the same year. Rupal's consistency earned her a place in the junior national camp in Patiala last year before the nationwide lockdown. She returned home after two months as she was scheduled to take class XI examinations. She was also picked in the World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi held in August but couldn't compete due to lack of preparations and ankle injury.
Speaking on her future plans, the athlete said, "A lot of international competitions are coming up and I hope this performance will help me find a place in the national squad. The plan is to compete in as many events as possible to get the requisite experience. Besides, I would like to work on my strength and speed. Endurance is there and it helped me here in setting up my personal best but if I can improve my strength and speed, I can easily breach the national record of 53.14 seconds (Jisna Mathew) in U-18 age group."
Ayush fastest male
Meanwhile, Ayush Dabas from Haryana clocked 46.86 seconds in the men's section to emerge the fastest male quarter-miler in the event. Tamil Nadu's Surendar S Selvamani clocked 47.76 seconds and Harpreet Singh Gill from Punjab completed the lap in 48.13 seconds to finish second and third respectively.
Select results (finals)
Men: 1. Ayush Dabas (Haryana) 46.86 seconds; 2. Surendar S Selvamani (Tamil Nadu) 47.76; 3. Harpreet Singh Gill (Punjab) 48.13.
Women: 1. Vandana Sharma (Uttar Pradesh) 55.01 seconds; 2. Smruthimol Rajendran (Kerala) 55.75; 3. Khamosh Bai Gurjar (Rajasthan) 1:04.57.