Next month’s Asian Athletic Championships in Pune will be Susmita Singha Roy’s fourth but in many ways it will be as important as her first. This will be the champion hepathlete’s first international event in nearly two years most of which were spent tending to a dodgy right knee and a hamstring stubborn in its reluctance to heal.
"The event will give me a chance to assess competition as most of them will be taking part in the Asian Games (Incheon 2014). More importantly, it will also give me an opportunity to see where I stand internationally after a long gap," Susmita said at the eastern centre of the Sports Authority of India, her home since 2001.
The past few months have been good for this lean, strapping athlete for whom every silver lining has been clouded by injury or accident. Susmita won her sixth straight hepathlon title in the Federation Cup last May with a score of 5080 and followed that up by adding 84 points for another first place in the senior inter-state championship this month.
That’s still way below her best of 6027 set in 2008 but Susmita and coach Dronacharya Kuntal Roy are confident of yesterday once more. If the body holds up, that is. "Hepathlon is a sport where you tend to age really well so, at 29, Susmita has time. But just as her talent has never been in question, she been painfully short of luck," said Roy.
The coach said Susmita should target 5500 in Pune and if that happens, the bar would be set at 6000 for Incheon. "That’s a gold medal score in the Asian level," said Roy. One thing leads to another and that would help her achieve qualifying mark for the 2016 Olympics, said Roy.
Neither coach nor ward is looking that far ahead though.
And neither is keen that athletes take up hepathlon - an event where between 2000-08 India had four performers who had crossed the 6000 mark which ensured automatic entry to all marquee competitions.
"It is the one of the easiest events to get a medal at the Asian level and though Subodh Bhatnagar the current SAI director here is doing everything to help, India simply doesn’t have the infrastructure to support hepathlon. You need shoes worth R2 lakh a year. And you need a very good injury management programme because breakdowns will be frequent in a discipline this taxing. That makes it an expensive pursuit and lack of funds and injury often lead to a rise in frustration levels.
In the 2009 World Championships, (gold medallist) Jessica Ennis had a support staff of 15, Susmita went alone," said Roy. "It’s better to concentrate on a single event."
Hepathlon’s been her identity and on comeback trail, she’s stretching every sinew to get better but Susmita said: “I am completely with sir on this.”