Lakshmanan’s story reinforces one’s belief that no odds are insurmountable

The 27-year-old armyman came up with mesmerising performances and left spectators speechless recently at the Asian Athletics Championships.

Govindan Lakshmanan bagged two golds at the 22nd Asian Athletics Championships. Photo credit: AFP

A couple of images from the recent Asian Athletics Championships in Bhubaneswar stand out. The first was of a young man helping an old woman climb stairs at the Kalinga Stadium and settling her on a comfortable seat in the Athletes’ Gallery. Barely an hour later, Govindan Lakshmanan was winning the first of his two gold medals. His mother, Jayalakshmi, a widowed daily wager who had unshackled her son so he could pursue his dream, led the rousing applause.

A day after the meet ended, he had two gold medals dangling from his neck, the world around him celebrated his memorable feats in the 5,000m and 10,000m races at the Kalinga Stadium in Odisha’s capital. As he held the gold medals up for the cameras, Lakshmanan presented a wonderful picture of joy and satisfaction.

It is possible that as he basked in the limelight and reaped a well-deserved harvest of cash rewards, the 27-year-old from Kavinadu on the outskirts of Tamil Nadu’s Pudukottai city, a few endearing images from his early days in athletics would have flashed by in the mind’s eye of the double gold medallist, unbeaten by Indians over any distance in competition for a good part of three years.

At the Kavinadu Youth Sports Club (KYSC) where he learnt the basics of running over 13 years ago, innovation was the name of the game since no modern equipment was available. For upper body strength, Lakshmanan would drag weights – to be honest, a discarded car tyre with a fellow-trainee squatting on it – by a rope strapped around his waist. He would have one end of the long band of elastic – cycle tubes, really, cut, straightened, knotted – strapped to the shin. With the other firmly end tied to a pole, he would put that leg forward and back to enhance lower leg, groin, hamstring and thigh strength besides increasing his stride-length.

Indeed, the foundation for his journey to the 2017 Asian crowns was laid in the early years by S Loganathan, an Income Tax official doubling up as coach at KYSC. Having moved into the Loganathan household after the demise of his own father Govindan, Lakshmanan was inspired by his ‘sister’ L Suriya’s bond with the 180m ‘track’ at KYSC.

The next stop for him was the Army Sports Institute in Pune where his talent was honed further. He caught the eye of national middle-and-long-distance running coach Surender Singh and was drafted into the national camps by the Athletics Federation of India. It entailed a shift to the Peter Thangaraj Stadium in Wellington and the facility at NIS, Patiala. From being cadet at the Army Sports Institute to Havildar in the Madras Regimental Centre (Wellington) – where each soldier is called a Thambi (younger brother) – Lakshmanan has come a long way indeed. But the credo of hard work at training, including the right mix of road and track competitions, has remained a constant.

After he overcame the disappointment of missing out on Olympic qualification, Lakshmanan finished the best among Indians at the Delhi Half Marathon in November 2016, with a time of 1:04:37 that got him the 10th overall in the IAAF Bronze Label Race. The Tata Steel 25k Run in Kolkata and the half marathon in IDBI National were planned as part of his endurance training.

The tough regime that Surender Singh prescribes for Lakshmanan includes an abstention from his mobile phone for long spells through the week. The coach believes that the phone can be distraction. He has also impressed upon Lakshmanan and other trainees that the best nutrition would come not from supplements but from natural food like fruit and vegetable. For some time now, at least until new memories are made, Lakshmanan’s finishing kick in winning the 5,000m and 10,000m gold medals at the Asian Athletics Championships in Bhubaneswar will be remembered. After all, the world loves it when it sees a distance runner shift gears, without palpable strain, and leave everyone else gasping in his or her wake.

By winning double gold at the Asian Championships, Lakshmanan will have instilled pride and hope in the hearts of countless Indians, the belief that no odds are tall enough for determined and hard-working athletes to surmount. There is no doubt that the armyman will have inspired more than a few to take to sport as an avenue to express themselves tellingly.

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