T. Gopi (This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

“ Given the prevailing weather conditions and the need to push reasonably in such circumstances, I am satisfied with my performance. That said I do wish it had been a better performance,’’ T Gopi told this blog on day 10 of the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships. The men’s marathon, wherein Gopi finished 21st with a timing of 2:15:57 happened on the intervening night of days 9 and 10.

According to him, he had trained well for the event in Doha. At the national camp in Bengaluru he made sure to do the bulk of his training in the afternoon hours, when temperatures are warmer. Roughly a fortnight before the championships he also altered his sleep cycle given outdoor endurance disciplines were slated to happen during night in the Qatari capital. Despite all these preparations, the weather on arrival in Doha – Gopi reached there on September 30 – was dissimilar to the conditions he had trained under in Bengaluru. It was warmer and the humidity was quite high. The general feedback from the women’s marathon, staged soon after the championships got underway, was further wake up call to reconsider plans. Gopi admitted that in the flurry of news around what happened at the women’s marathon (28 runners pulled out, unable to continue in the prevailing weather), he had wondered whether he would cover the whole distance.

It is true that qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was pending and there was a timing of 2:11:30 to match for that purpose. Even as he acclimatized as well as he could to the local weather, Doha didn’t seem the appropriate mix of conditions to push for a severe target. It made better sense to run responsibly and save oneself for potential Olympic qualification in more hospitable weather conditions. Olympic qualification is a huge push for any Indian marathoner because it entails breaking the long existing national record of 2:12:00.

Luckily for the male marathoners in Doha, weather conditions on the intervening night of days 9 and 10 of the championships, was not as bad as it had been for the women’s marathon. According to Gopi, the race commenced with temperature at around 30 degrees Celsius but soon settled to 29 degrees. Humidity was 48 per cent (in contrast the women’s marathon was staged in 30-32.7 degrees Celsius and humidity of 73 per cent).  “ I did face one problem – my old calf muscle issue continues to return.  The muscle got tight towards the later stages of the race. The last ten kilometers was therefore slow,’’ Gopi said over the phone from Doha.

Gopi believes that he hasn’t done too badly with 2:15:57, the timing he eventually churned out at the marathon in Doha. To explain, he pointed to the personal bests (PB) of the runners who finished on the podium. Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa for instance has a PB of 2:04:45. Against that his race winning time in Doha was 2:10:40. Mosinet Geremew, also of Ethiopia, has a PB of 2:02:55; his finish time for the silver medal was 2:10:44. Kenya’s Amos Kipruto who finished third in 2:10:51 has a PB of 2:05:43. They were all slower by 5-8 minutes.  Compared to that Gopi’s finish time was 2:15:57; his PB, 2:13:39. “ Viewed so, I am satisfied with this outcome,’’ Gopi said.

His next priority is to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. On the radar for the purpose is the next edition of the Tokyo Marathon. “ I hope to run at that event and seek qualification,’’ Gopi said. Other options also exist, among them the next Asian Marathon Championships due in December 2019. According to a May 2019 article in Outside magazine, there is time till May 31, 2020 to qualify for participation in the 2020 Olympics marathon.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

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