In 1981, I was on a growth curve. I’d imbibed a new-found confidence and was learning to be just a little assertive. I picked up gold medals at international invitation meets held in India and Pakistan. Where earlier I used to be tongue-tied, I now became bold enough to say I wouldn’t attend the international meets without my coach O.M. Nambiar. In those days, the personal coach was not considered important and was not allowed to accompany the athlete on international tours. I had just attended my first major international meet, the Moscow Olympics, the previous year. The two-week-long stay in the Olympic village had all the alien trappings to make me feel miserable and lonely. I was a young village girl from Payyoli, Kerala, and there were only two of us women athletes: Geeta Zutshi and me. Geeta was many years my senior and already had her own band of friends. Everything was totally strange to me. I’d never even been on a plane before. At Moscow, for the first time I ran on a synthetic track in a large indoor stadium. My head was spinning after as I wasn’t used to running indoors. I remember that the flats we stayed in looked all the same to me and I got lost a few times. As for the food, though there was a separate Indian mess you wouldn’t get anything if you went late and I was not used to Continental food. I longed for a hot meal of rice and fish curry. In spite of this, I ran my best. I didn’t want to be last and wasn’t. I came 6th in the heats.
As told to Minu Ittyippe
It occurred to me, that tracks are supposed to be completely flat, in athletic stadiums. Imagine Zatopek, running on completely uneven ground, in forests, not knowing the height of the tree branch, or rock, he will have to jump over, if he has to. Now, put him in a completely flat track, in his event. It could be, that his performance is not because of training. Why? If you feel, that you can do the steeplechase, when you are Zatopek, then it would have nothing to do with training in a stadium steeplechase. It would have to do with the confidence of running on a completely flat track. From the start, the confidence grows, in the race, and if you are Emil Zatopek, then you just put in the same effort as in the forest, and this also naturally, grows, during the race.
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