OP Jaisha on Tuesday questioned the Athletics Federation of India’s (AFI) allegation that she had refused to avail energy drinks and water during the Rio Olympics marathon, saying there needed to be an enquiry into the incident.
“How would the representatives of Athletics Federation Of India know the truth if they were not even there?,” Jaisha was quoted as saying by ANI. “There are cameras everywhere now, they should check the cameras and they will get the answer,” she said of AFI’s statement.
“I am sure that had something grave happened to me, AFI would have still said that OP Jaisha didnt avail refreshment,” she added.
Jaisha, who didn’t want to run in the marathon at the Rio Games in the first place and was allegedly forced to race by India’s Belarusian coach Nikolai Snesarev, hit out against the officials on her return from Brazil.
The runner from Kerala alleged that during the race she wasn’t provided personal refreshment at water stations that were supposed to be manned by Indian officials and was left too drained to come up with a decent performance. She finished a poor 89th under the scorching sun. She clocked two hours, 47 minutes and 19 seconds, far slower than her personal best of 2:34.43 recorded at last year’s world championships in Beijing.
Jaisha, 33, blamed the system for her poor show, after wilting in the heat and becoming unconscious. She was hospitalised and was administered drip before regaining consciousness after a couple of hours.
“It was very hot there. The competition was at 9am, I ran in scorching heat. There was no water for us, neither recovery drinks nor food. Only once in 8km did we get water (from the organisers) which did not help at all. All the countries had their stalls every 2km but our country’s stall was empty,” Jaisha was quoted as saying by PTI.
“We are supposed to be given drinks by our technical officials, it’s the rule. We cannot take water from any other team. I saw the India board there but there was nothing. I had a lot of problem, I fainted after the race. I was administered glucose, I thought I would die.”
Jaisha dismissed AFI’s implication that she’d lied about not being provided refreshments, saying, “Why would I say such a huge lie, when I have never complained even once in my entire sports career?”
Federation blames coach
However, it may not be merely a case of negligence by the officials. Athletics Federation of India secretary CK Valson told HT it was the coach’s call not to give additional refreshments to the runner. “We had collected passes and made arrangements, but Nikolai refused. How could be go ahead then?” he asked.
At world level marathons, there are ‘water stations’ after a certain distance along the route. Here, normal water and sponges are kept. There are also separate aid stations where the support staff of individual athletes wait to provide them supplement drinks. However, athletes must be used to such drinks during training or else it may not be effective in a race.
Not on the same page
The runner and her coach have had a prickly relationship. Jaisha had split with Nikolai in January. She along with Lalita Babar and Sudha Singh (both 3000m steeplechase runners) had quit the national camp at Ooty. That came after the Belarusian coach didn’t allow the runners to represent their employers Railways in the national cross-country meet held in Pune.
After the federation intervened, the athletes returned to national camp, but the relationship with the coach, considered a tough taskmaster, didn’t really improve.
There was disagreement over qualification for Rio as well. Lalita Babar, Sudha Singh and Jaisha had all qualified for the marathon, but were reluctant to run the event in Rio. “I want to qualify for 1500m or 5,000m,” Jaisha had said in April. She, however, wasn’t given that opportunity by the coach, although she did not speak out then.
Sudha and Babar went on to qualify for 3,000 metre steeplechase, but Jaisha wasn’t impressive in the track events.
And five months before Rio, she was reportedly nursing a stress fracture in her foot, but was not given a break by the coach.
Kavita Raut, the second marathon runner, didn’t opt for additional drinks along the route.