Central Railways athletics coach Nagesh Shetty's pulse started racing as Sudha Singh lined up for the start of the women's 3000m steeplechase on Sunday evening.
Shetty, a talent scout of repute from Mumbai, had advised Sudha to switch from cross country to steeplechase, a relatively new event for women at the international level. The 24-year-old was facing the biggest test on debut in the the Asian Games.
"You feel the pulse rate rising when your ward lines up for a race, that's a natural reaction of any coach. But I was confident Sudha would perform well and expected her to finish among the top three," Shetty told HT after Sudha’s win. "But the medal was a surprise. I never thought she would do it in her maiden Asiad."
Ever since he spotted Sudha as a teenager at a meet in Delhi seven years ago, Shetty has been mentoring her. "She is very talented but was not getting good results in cross country. Considering her strengths, explosive kick and ability to work hard, we decided she should take up steeplechase," he said.
The 24-year-old senior ticket collector has trained at the Dadoji Konddeo Stadium, Thane and Priyadarshani Park, before joining the national camp where she has been working with national coach Nokolai Snesarov of Belarus and has improved in leaps and bounds.
Sudha's achievement was also a victory for coach Snesarov and his plan of continuous training for elite athletes after the 2004 Asian Games under which Indian athletes spent the last three years at camps, going home only for two to three weeks in all. Snesarov also insisted on taking the athletes early to Guangzhou so that they can get acclimatised to the conditions.
The plan seems to have paid dividends as the Indian distance runners made everyone sit up and take note, emerging from the shadows of the Chinese and Japanese as a force to reckon with.