2022 COMMONWEALTH GAMES / A SMASHING SILVER FOR SABLE IN STEEPLECHASE

Avinash Sable. This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the athlete and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

India’s Avinash Sable showed the lion-heart he is, nearly snatching the gold medal from Kenya’s Abraham Kibiwot’s reach, as he crossed the line for a well-deserved silver in a tightly contested men’s 3000m steeplechase at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK.

Kibiwot’s victory was hard earned and by the narrowest of margins; he clocked eight minutes, 11.15 seconds. Sable (8:11.20) finished right next to him, bettering his own national record in the process. Amos Serem of Kenya (8:16.83) secured the bronze.

The race started with much expected from the Kenyans. In their ranks was defending champion Conseslus Kipruto. He had won in the discipline at the 2018 CWG in Gold Coast, Australia with timing of 8:10.08. He was also world champion at the World Athletics Championships held in Doha in 2019 and bronze medallist at the recently concluded World Championships in Eugene, Oregon, USA.

Shortly after the commencement of the race in Birmingham, Sable moved into the lead. The trio of Kenyans kept him company. But soon, the Kenyans took over; they set a fast pace (at one point hinting at a potential finish in less than eight minutes as per race commentary) and opened up a sizable gap with the rest of the field, barring Sable, who hung around in fourth position. Sable never let the Kenyans get far from him. Just doing so, was a new high in Indian athletics for the attitude it personified.

As the final lap approached, Sable began working his way up and by the time he took the bell had carved himself a slot in second position. He maintained it right through the water jump and the last hurdle, chasing Kibiwot down to the line forcing a verdict decided by a wafer-thin margin. It was as good a scare as the Kenyans, traditional kings of the steeplechase, could get.

Kipruto finished in sixth place; he timed 8:34.96. Abraham Kibiwot was silver medallist at the 2018 CWG; he has a PB of 8:09.25 set in 2016 (source: Wikipedia). Amos Serem was gold medallist at the 2021 World U20 Championships held in Nairobi, Kenya.

At the world championships in Oregon, Sable had finished eleventh in the steeplechase final with timing of 8:31.75. An icon in Indian athletics and someone with no close competitor in the country in his chosen discipline, Sable has improved his national record several times in the past few years. In June 2022, at an international meet in Rabat, Morocco, he had clocked 8:12.48. It stands improved in Birmingham to 8:11.20. Besides steeplechase, Sable also holds the national record in the half marathon – one hour, 30 seconds (1:00:30).     

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

AT A GLANCE / AUGUST 2022

Flashback / pack of elite runners from the 2019 edition of Tata Mumbai Marathon (Photo: by arrangement)

Tata Mumbai Marathon is back

The 2023 edition of Tata Mumbai Marathon will be held on January 15, as per the event’s website.

According to it (this is as of August 8, 2022), registration for the full marathon has opened. Registration for the half marathon starts from August 20; that of other categories is set to commence from August 26. The dates mentioned herein are as per information available on the event website.

The race is returning after a gap of two years – 2021 and 2022 – when it wasn’t held due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event is India’s biggest marathon.

Eldhose Paul. This photo was taken from the Instagram page of the athlete and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Double glory for India in men’s triple jump as Eldhose Paul, Abdulla Aboobacker take gold, silver

India’s Eldhose Paul won the gold medal in the men’s triple jump at the 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Birmingham, UK.

One of only two athletes to pass the 17m-mark in the contest, Paul had a best jump of 17.03m.

The other jump in excess of 17m belonged to Paul’s compatriot Abdulla Aboobacker Narangolintevid, whose best jump touched 17.02m, earning him the silver. India thus bagged both gold and silver medals in the triple jump. Paul’s best jump came in his third attempt; Aboobacker’s in his fifth. 

Bronze went to Jha-Nhai Perinchief of Bermuda (16.92m).

Praveen Chitravel, the third Indian athlete in the fray, finished fourth (16.89).

Earlier, in late July, Paul, having become the first Indian to qualify for the final of the men’s triple jump competition at the 2022 World Athletics Championships, had finished ninth. In Eugene, USA, he had produced a best jump of 16.79m, a distance significantly improved in Birmingham.

Arshad Nadeem. This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of World Athletics and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

A well deserved gold for Pakistan’s Nadeem in men’s javelin throw

Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem won the gold medal in the men’s javelin throw competition at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK with his best throw measuring 90.18m, a new Games record.

Anderson Peters of Grenada (88.64m) took the silver and Kenya’s Julius Yego (85.70m), the bronze.

Nadeem’s first throw measured 86.38m. A while later, his third throw rewrote that mark to a new personal best of 88m. Eventually, his best throw from the competition was a massive one measuring 90.18m. He was seen periodically clutching the taped elbow of his throwing arm; it seemed to be in pain. At the recently concluded 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene, USA, Nadeem had placed fifth with a best throw of 86.16m. Anderson Peters, who successfully defended his title as world champion in Eugene, appeared a shadow of that self in Birmingham. He hovered in the low 80s for long before producing that throw of 88.64m. It briefly put him in the lead ahead of Nadeem before the latter unleashed his competition-winning 90m plus-throw. The Grenadian athlete was unable to improve further and had to settle for silver. In Eugene, his best throw had touched 90.54m. His PB is 93.07m.

Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad & Tobago (82.61m) placed fourth. The two Indian athletes in the field D.P. Manu (82.28m) and Rohit Yadav (82.22m) finished fifth and sixth respectively. As per their profiles available on the website of World Athletics, Manu has a PB of 84.35m; Rohit’s PB is 82.54m.

Priyanka Goswami. This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page.

Priyanka Goswami gets silver in women’s 10,000m race-walk

Priyanka Goswami of India secured the silver medal in the women’s 10,000m race-walk at the 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Birmingham, UK. Her timing – 43 minutes and 38.83 seconds – was a new personal best (PB).

The gold medal went to Jemima Montag of Australia who set a new games record of 42:34.30. Kenya’s Emily Wamusyi Ngii (43:50.86, an area record and a PB) took the bronze.

India’s Bhawna Jat (47:14.13), who finished eighth, also got a PB.

The race held under quite supportive weather conditions, saw an initial break-away group of around five athletes headed by Goswami, in the lead. Within this formation, Montag stuck to the third position behind Goswami and Ngii for a long time. However, close to the halfway mark she struck out on her own, set a fast pace and never looked back.

Sandeep Kumar gets bronze in men’s 10,000m race-walk

India’s Sandeep Kumar picked up the bronze medal in the men’s 10,000m race-walk at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK.

He covered the distance in a new personal best of 38 minutes, 49.21 seconds.

The gold medal went to Evan Dunfee of Canada – 38:36.37, a new Games record. Australia’s Declan Tingay took the silver in a new personal best of 38:42.33.

Annu Rani gets bronze in women’s javelin throw

Annu Rani of India picked up the bronze medal in the women’s javelin throw competition at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK.

She had a best throw of 60m.

The gold medal was secured by Kelsey-Lee Barber of Australia (64.43m).

Mackenzie Little of Australia took the silver (84.27).

Exciting finishes in women’s 800m and men’s 5000m in Birmingham

The concluding stages of the 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Birmingham, UK, saw a couple of exciting finishes in the middle and long distance-races. In the women’s 800m, Kenya’s Mary Moraa pulled off a brilliant victory to take gold in one minute, 57.07 seconds. England’s Keely Hodgkinson (1:57.40) and Scotland’s Laura Muir (1:57.87) secured the silver and bronze medals respectively. Moraa, who led in the first lap of the 400m-track, slipped back in the second till she was almost at the tail end of the small line of runners. Uniquely, she made no effort to fight back as the others overtook her. She resurfaced at the back of the pack but now in an outer track. Then, the claw-back commenced. She worked her way back up, closed the gap and eventually overtook Hodgkinson to collect a well-deserved gold. It was a superb piece of running. In retrospect, that fall to the rear of the pack shifted Moraa from the relatively crammed inside track to an outer one leaving her, at the final bend, with an unhindered passage to accelerate and go for gold. But was it what she wanted? Mary Moraa knows.

Hours later, the men’s 5000m race kicked off with all eyes on Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo and two fast runners from Kenya – Nicholas Kipkorir Kimeli and Jacob Krop. Initially, the race felt sluggish; it appeared the sort of situation that typically builds up to a sprint finish favoring those capable of speed. While Kimeli and Krop are known to specialize in distances ranging from 3000m to 10,000m, Kiplimo does that and is also the world record holder in the half marathon (57 minutes and 31 seconds). The wider range of distances in Kiplimo’s portfolio, which emphasizes endurance over speed, had naturally triggered speculation during the 5000m race in Birmingham on how well he may perform should things boil down to a sprint finish. However, as the concluding stages of the race approached, Kiplimo went past Kimeli, opened up a sizable gap and held on to it to take the gold in a season’s best of 13:08.08. Kimeli (13:08.19) and Krop (13:08.48) secured the silver and bronze, respectively. With gold in the men’s 10,000m bagged earlier, it was a classic double for Kiplimo.  

Murali Sreeshankar. This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the athlete and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Murali Sreeshankar gets silver in long jump; Tejaswin Shankar bags bronze in high jump

India’s Murali Sreeshankar won the silver medal in the men’s long jump competition at the 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Birmingham, UK.

In the final, his best jump measured 8.08m. The gold medal went to Laquan Nairn of Bahamas (also 8.08m). Nairn’s best jump was identical to Sreeshankar’s but he had the advantage of a better second-best jump – 7.98m. Sreeshankar’s second-best in the final was 7.84m. Jovan vaan Vuren of South Africa (8.06m) secured the bronze.

India’s Muhammed Anees Yahiya placed fifth with a best jump of 7.97m to his credit. Sreeshankar is the first Indian to get a silver in the men’s long jump at CWG. Back in 1978, at the CWG held in Edmonton, Canada, Suresh Babu had won the bronze with a jump of 7.94m.

The start list for the 2022 CWG final featured 12 athletes of who, 11 possessed PBs in excess of 8m. The best PB was Sreeshankar’s – 8.36m. Although his fifth jump brought him on par with Nairn as regards distance reached, overall, the final was a mixed bag for Sreeshankar with his other jumps in sub-8m domain and one (a good jump), deemed a foul by the narrowest of margins.  

Tejaswin Shankar. This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the athlete and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Earlier at the event, India’s Tejaswin Shankar won the bronze medal in the men’s high jump. His best jump measured 2.22m. Hamish Kerr of New Zealand (2.25m) and Brandon Starc of Australia (also 2.25m) secured gold and silver respectively. A July 30, 2022-article in the Indian Express, soon after the 2022 CWG commenced in Birmingham, aptly summed up Shankar’s predicament. Although he met the qualification-mark, Shankar was initially denied a place on the national squad headed to Birmingham. He was included following a Court directive. Then he was told that his entry had been turned down by the event organizers. Later, with days left for the CWG, he was informed that he was accepted. Consequently, he arrived in Birmingham, his days preceding the competition lost to running around to get the paperwork for his journey done. The bronze was despite that. Tejaswin Shankar has a PB of 2.29m, which is also the national record.

This picture of Ferdinand Omanyala was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

“ I am happy I am changing the notion that Kenyans can’t sprint’’

For long identified with distance runners, Kenya added excellence in the sprints to its portfolio with Ferdinand Omanyala taking the gold medal in the men’s 100m at the 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Birmingham, UK.

He clocked 10.02 seconds.

Defending champion Akani Simbine of South Africa (10.13) bagged the silver while Yupun Abeykoon of Sri Lanka (10.14) took the bronze.

A former rugby player, Omanyala has a personal best of 9.77 seconds. In a post-race interview available on the YouTube channel of Athletics Weekly, he said, “ I am happy I am changing the notion that Kenyans can’t sprint.’’ In its report on Abeykoon’s bronze medal-winning performance, Colombo-based newspaper Daily Mirror said, “ Abeykoon is the first Sri Lankan in 24 years to win a Commonwealth Games Medal in track and field events, after Sriyani Kulawansa won Silver in the Women’s 100m Hurdles and Sugath Thilakaratne won Bronze in the Men’s 400m at the Kuala Lumpur 1998 Games.’’

Omanyala’s triumph, a moment to remember Seraphino Antao

Ferdinand Omanyala is the first Kenyan to secure a gold medal in sprint at a major international event since Seraphino Antao’s two gold medals in the 100 yard and 220 yard-races at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth, Australia. Converted to metres, 100 yards amounts to 91.44 metres. According to Wikipedia’s page on Athletics at the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, Antao timed 9.50 seconds for the 100 yards and 21.28 seconds for the 220 yards (201.168 metres).

Antao, who retired after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and later shifted to the UK, passed away in 2011. His parents hailed from Goa. An article on Antao, dated September 6, 2008 and available on the website of The East African, said, “ His father came over from Goa sometime in the early 1920s and settled in Mombasa. He met Antao’s mother, whose family had also come from Goa, they married and had five children. Seraphino Antao was born in 1937, and grew up playing football. He got into athletics almost by accident. In 1956, while working for the East African Railways, specifically the Landing & Shipping Company, he entered the company athletics competition and won the sprint events. Within six months he was competing in national events and was the Kenya and East African champion in several short races. He was part of the team that represented Kenya in the Cardiff Commonwealth Games in 1958 and the Rome Olympics in 1960. He then went on to be a world-class sprinter before retiring in 1964.’’ For more on Seraphino Antao and the above mentioned article, please click on this link:  https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/tea/magazine/pioneer-in-kenya-s-athletics-seraphino-antao-a-champion-1291980).

The website goanvoice.org.uk has a detailed page on Antao with many articles compiled. In an interview to the East African Standard, dated February 1, 2003, wherein he cites the 1962 CWG races as the most memorable of his life, Antao adds that he clocked 20.9 seconds in the 220 yard-semi-final. The website also shows you a November 2004 report in Herald by Fredrick Noronha based on a conversation he had with Antao when the latter paid a visit to Goa (Antao’s roots are in Chandor). It said: “ The Antaos (from Chandor) were quite sports minded. Germano Antao was a big name in sports, and my cousin Effie Antao played football for Kenya. Pascoal Antao played for Salgaocars years back, and his son Trevor is also a good footballer,’’ he said in an interview. His sister, Iggy (Ignaciana) Antao, was also a good sprinter, while his brother Rosario was a long-jumper. Expat Goans may have represented the world in various sporting events, but Antao is probably the only one to do so well in athletics. For more on Antao from the website, please click on this link: http://www.goanvoice.org.uk/supplement/SeraphinoAntaobak.htm.

A quick Google-search in the wake of Omanyala’s victory in Birmingham showed that while the media mentioned Seraphino Antao in their reporting (which is how this writer too learnt of him), film footage of his running was little. In this context, the only video I came across on YouTube had been posted by Fred Menezes. It was from the 100 yards competition at the 1962 CWG and is shared below:

Seraphino Antao running at the 1962 CWG. This video was posted on YouTube by Fred Menezes and is being shared here for representation purpose.

Strasser is first to finish 2022 TCR

Christoph Strasser, Austrian ultra-cyclist, became the first participant to cross the finish line at the 2022 edition of the Transcontinental Race (TCR) in Europe. He covered 4578 kilometres in nine days, 14 hours and zero minutes, a report on cyclist.co.uk said. The race started in Geraardsbergen, Belgium and ended in Burgas, Bulgaria. The website said that at the time of reporting, Strasser’s successful completion awaited verification of his route by the race organizers.

According to Wikipedia, TCR is an annual self-supported ultra-distance cycling race across Europe with the route and distance for each edition generally varying between 3200-4200 km. The winners usually take 7-10 days. It is not a stage race and operates like a long individual time trial. Apart from sections of the route, some control points and the finish, the participants are mostly free to choose their own route, Wikipedia’s page on the event said.

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

A RACE TO REMEMBER

Kuanju Lin (Photo: courtesy Kuanju)

Kuanju Lin of Chinese Taipei was the gold medallist in the women’s category at the 2022 IAU 24-Hour Asia & Oceania Championships held in Bengaluru. It was her first time representing her country.

“ I don’t know what attracts me to running. But I feel happy, free and meaningful when I run,” Kuanju Lin said.

We were faces at the two ends of a video chat; she in Taiwan (Chinese Taipei); I in Mumbai, India. It was July 2022, sometime in the month’s third week. Earlier, over July 2-3, Kuanju had essayed a superb run at the 2022 IAU 24-Hour Asia & Oceania Championships in Bengaluru. The venue was the city’s Sree Kanteerava Stadium and the participants had to run laps on the synthetic track for the assigned period of time. Kuanju, 35, covered 216.877km in 24 hours to place first among women.  

Kuanju lives in Banqiao, a district in New Taipei City. A special municipality, New Taipei City is Taiwan’s most populous city. Located in northern Taiwan, it encloses the city of Taipei, which is the country’s capital. On the map, the main island of Taiwan (where Taipei and New Taipei City are located) is distinctly hilly to the east. The vast majority of the country’s population resides in the plains to the west. Taiwan has a high density of population. According to Wikipedia, one third of Taiwanese citizens live in the Taipei-Keelung metropolitan area to which the cities of Taipei, New Taipei City and Keelung belong. Banqiao has the third highest population density in Taiwan. “ Its flat,’’ Kuanju said when asked about the topography of the place she lives in.     

During her school years, Kuanju disliked exercising. She studied design, craft, painting, singing and music. She took up running after she commenced working. “ A friend invited me to run. That’s how I got into running,” she said. Initially, she focussed on the marathon. The many marathons she ran included two World Marathon Majors – Tokyo Marathon in 2018 and Boston Marathon in 2019 – and the New Taipei City Wan Jin Shi Marathon. Along the way, she achieved a personal best of 3:09 in the discipline at the 2021 Taipei Marathon. However, in due course, she moved to ultra-marathons. “ In the past I focussed entirely on the marathon. In 2015, I challenged myself to attempt a 100 km race,” she said. It was the Wulu Gorge Ultramarathon, held on Taiwan’s east coast. She covered 100 km in nine hours and 38 minutes. It fuelled her curiosity further; she wanted to know more about what attracted other runners to court hard challenges. Eager to find out how long she could run, she opted for a 24-hour run.

Her first 24-hour ultra-running event was as recent as in February 2022. She covered a distance of 180 km. “ I felt good about my mileage but my ankles hurt and swelled up,” she said. The event helped Kuanju to understand the dynamics of a 24-hour run and train accordingly. For the championships in Bengaluru, Kuanju focussed on strength training and long-distance running. “ I did two ultra-long training runs – one of 135 km and another of 95 km. In Bengaluru, I focussed on nutrition and hydration. I prepared some fruit, energy bar with nuts, electrolyte liquid and chocolate – I kept consuming that during my run,” she said.

Kuanju Lin (Photo: courtesy Kuanju)

Unlike a marathon, where elite runners run the length of the whole course, ultra-running events like the 24 hour-race typically involve a mix of running and fast walking. The prevailing weather plays a big role in how extended runs of this sort, play out. In a post-race article available on runnerstribe.com, Australian athlete Cassie Cohen (she was a participant in the Bengaluru event) highlighted the part weather plays: “ while on paper, my PB (204.92 km) was among the strongest in the field, I knew that didn’t tell the full story. The Indian and Chinese Taipei athletes had got their results in hot and humid conditions as we would experience on race day. I got mine in Canberra in near perfect cool conditions. PBs meant nothing once the flag was raised to start the race.’’  

New Taipei City has a climate that is characterized as ` humid subtropical.’ It features hot and humid summers and cool to mild winters. Bengaluru has a ` tropical savanna climate’ but it’s elevation (3020 feet) gifts it a generally moderate climate. In early July 2022, the city was getting showers and the weather was fairly pleasant by Indian standards. But humidity was high and this impacted the runners doing laps at Kanteerava Stadium, including some of Kuanju’s teammates who had to use ice to see themselves through the heat of the Indian afternoon. The Australians too suffered. In her detailed article, Cassie estimates that conditions touched 29 degrees and 70 per cent humidity.

For Kuanju, things appear to have played out tad differently. She was largely unfazed by Bengaluru’s humid weather. “ I felt comfortable most of the time though it was a bit warm. I am used to sunny weather,’’ she said. The first 12 hours went by pleasantly for her. “ I enjoyed the sun, the music and the cheering from the spectators. During the night hours, I walked because my right foot was aching. I wore earphones to listen to music. I resorted to singing along with my music. Encouragement from other runners also helped me to keep going,” she said. In retrospect, the main concern seems to have been the foot, to tackle which, she had to avail a brief intervention by the physiotherapist.

Those who watched the race in Bengaluru would likely recall two things. First, Kuanju had a near consistent pace. It was suitably slow for ultrarunning and steady. She kept going round and round with clockwork efficiency. Initially, her small size and light build may have inspired a different image, one of potential fragility. But as the day (July 2) progressed, it was increasingly clear that appearances can be deceptive; Kuanju’s steady pace was logging significant mileage. Second, her attire intrigued. Most of the runners sweated it out in shorts and vests. Kuanju wore a fluffy pink skirt over her leggings. While others were a picture of hard work and strain, she seemed to float along. Kuanju says she is fond of dressing up well for her races. “ When I started running, I used to get nervous. I relaxed myself by wearing accessories such as bows and cute things. Once, I wore a fluffy skirt for a race. There were many photographers and they kept clicking my photo. Also, runners and onlookers kept cheering me. That really helped improve my mood and reminded me to run enthusiastically and with a smile. Thereafter I used these accessories during runs,” she said. The fluffy skirt, according to her, is not just a cute accessory but something that lends positive energy.

On the morning of July 3 with only hours to go before the 24-hour mark, Kuanju was among few runners in the stadium still smiling and looking upbeat. In the final hours of the gruelling competition, top honours among women ended up a contest between Kuanju and Cassie Cohen. At 8 AM on May 3, when the race concluded, it was Kuanju securing gold; the Australian runner with 214.990 km logged was short by 1.9 km. Kuanju’s performance was a new national record for Chinese Taipei (Taiwan). Coming into the race in Bengaluru, Kuanju had not expected to win. Cassie took the silver while her compatriot Allicia-Grace Heron (211.442 km) bagged the bronze. At the team level, Chinese Taipei secured bronze in both men’s and women’s categories. The strain of the race was visible on all the teams; more than one runner had to be helped to get on to the podium.

Kuanju Lin; from the 2022 IAU 24-Hour Asia & Oceania Championships held in Bengaluru (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

The event in Bengaluru was the first time Kuanju represented her country. Back in New Taipei City, she works as a coach for boxing, cardio workout, fitness, spinning and TRX training. Her personal training for the ultramarathon is a combination of speed workout, progressive pace workout and long and easy runs with a day for rest during the week. “ Time management is a challenge. I need to calculate time for training, my job and the occasional break. Usually, I run over 400 km per month but if I am training for an ultramarathon, I need to run almost 600 km,” she said.

Although she topped the women’s race in Bengaluru cementing her position as an ultrarunner, she does not want to stop running marathons. “ I want to focus on marathon as well as ultramarathon running events,” she said when asked which distance she prefers. However, she is not chasing the World Marathon Majors. “ I don’t have the time or the money to pursue the Marathon Majors,” she said.

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai. Edited by Shyam G Menon.)