Without Letting The Past Weigh Her Down, M Gomathi Reigns Supreme
M Gomathi’s countenance showed no trace of panic that can destroy an athlete’s composure. Nor was there any hint of stress that the race was beyond her realms. On the contrary, there was confidence and an awareness of what had to be done. She timed her moves right, using her energy conservatively through the 800m final to win gold in the Asian Athletics Championships in Doha.
The 30-year-old Income Tax official, who traces her roots back to Mudikandam, a village with less than 1,000 inhabitants in Tamil Nadu’s Tiruchirapalli district, ran a near-perfect race in 2 minutes 02.70 seconds to catapult herself to the country’s collective conscience despite the general elections and the Indian Cricket Premier League dominating the landscape.
There is no doubt that she was the star of the 17-medal winning Indian squad in Doha. Tajinderpal Singh Toor was expected to win the men’s shot-put gold. Since PU Chithra was the women’s 1500m defending champion, her gold did not entirely come as a surprise. It is but-natural that of the three golds that India won in Doha, Gomathi’s sparked the greatest interest.
Gomathi’s Race a Representation of Her Life
Gomathi’s success sent writers across the country scurrying to Google to discover things like her taking to athletics when in Holy Cross College, Tiruchirapalli, at the age of 20, thanks to a friend; losing her father to colon cancer, and her coach Ramakrishnan Gandhi passing quite suddenly in 2016 to leave her to deal with the terrible hand life had dealt her.
In many ways, the race was a good reflection of her life at large. That race in which she trailed five others at one point of time but surged ahead of everyone else to break the beam could well represent her life in which she has overcome a delayed arrival on the sports scene, the challenge presented by circumstances and finding the best possible solution to emerge a winner.
She was in fifth position at the bell, Sri Lanka’s Waliwarsha Konda Liyana Arachchige overtaking her just before the lap was complete. Bahrain’s Marta Hirpato also went past her on the bend. But as the bunch, led by Kazakhstan’s Magarita Mukasheva, approached the back straight, Gomathi moved to the outside without losing her rhythm. She could have been boxed in had she continued.
The Indian smartly held her position, unmindful of the fact that she could be running a few meters more by being on the second lane. China’s Wang Chunyu was attempting to take over the pole position from Magarita Mukasheva. As they got into the home straight, the Kazakh got left behind. With less than 10m left for the finish, Gomathi moved into the lead.
Besides smart tactics, Gomathi was able to delay the onset of lactic that slows athletes down towards the end of a race. The Chinese, the tallest runner in the final, could not help a natural slow-down that occurred after her effort to stay abreast of Magarita Mukasheva and then overtake her. The Indian, on the contrary, was a picture of composure.
It was clear that the pace of the race was just right for her.
A faster first lap than 58.66 second may have challenged her a bit more in the second half of the race. But she was not complaining as she had enough left in her tank.
Victory After Adversity
Coming back to the 800m after nearly a year in June last year, she discovered evidence that confirmed her worst fears. She was second in 2:17.37 in the slowest of the three heats in the Federation Cup and endured the ignominy of not finishing the final. Besides losing the guidance of her two mentors, she faced a groin injury.
Her only event of note last year was the National Open September in Bhubaneswar where she won bronze in 2:08.59. She was grateful for the support and guidance that renowned coach JS Bhatia offered her, even though she was not in national camp. Having trained outside, she had to run a confirmatory trial in Patiala 10 days before her race in Doha.
Gomathi and Twinkle Chaudhary, who was also running the trial, had requested 400m runner MR Poovamma to pace them. Poovamma, used to running the lap around 53 seconds, was too quick for them, but Gomathi was relieved that she returned a time of 2:04.12, inside the qualification standard of 2:05.00 for the second time in a month.
Some eyebrows were raised since the 2:03.21 she clocked in the Federation Cup final on 16 March and the time she managed in the trials on 13 April both seemed beyond her reach since the 2:04.89 she ran in the Asian Athletics Championships in Wuhan in June 2015. As someone to be in the wilderness due to a variety of reasons and come back so strongly, she was a magical tale.
Poignant as her back story is, the late farmer N Marimuthu’s daughter was light on her feet in Doha, not letting the past weigh her down. Her win is a message that what matters is the ability of the human mind to be in the present, process the evolving scenario, think on the feet and be on the toes all the time to be deliver optimum result, even if the seemingly sudden improvement surprises some.
(G Rajaraman is a Delhi-based student of sport who has been writing and commenting for 35 years.)