Three months ago, when L Suriya from Tamil Nadu finished fourth in the Indian women’s category of the Delhi Half Marathon, few took note of her creditable timing of 1 hour 13 minutes and 16 seconds. It was understandable because the spotlight was on the leading trio of Lalita Babar, OP Jaisha and Sudha Singh, who finished in that order.
However, Suriya emerged from the shadows of her better-known rivals to make a big impression at the South Asian Games which concluded on Tuesday. The Tamil Nadu runner not only set meet records in the 5,000m and 10,000m, but also came close to achieving the Rio Olympic qualification mark in the longer event. She won gold in 32:39, her personal best.
“Initially, it was school competitions which gave her the platform. Encouraged by the small gains, she started running more seriously,” says her father S Loganathan, a former distance runner.
Suriya’s coach, Olympian Surendra Singh, is hopeful of his trainee running the 10,000 metres under 32 minutes. “She has potential to run faster. Don’t be surprised if she breaks 32-minute for 25 laps,” he told HT.
At Guwahati, Suriya was slightly off the Rio mark of 32:15, but by April-May, says Surendra, the 25-year-old should be able to book an Olympic berth. Her winning time in the 5,000m at Guwahati was 15:45. The Rio qualification standard is 15:20.
Suriya, who hails from Pudukottai district in Tamil Nadu, has made rapid strides in the past two years, constantly improving upon her personal mark. For example, in last July, during the inter-state meet in Chennai, she had clocked a modest 16:01.28 for the 5,000m, her best for the season.
Although her performances last year earned a passage to the national camp, to train under Belarusian coach Nikolai Snesarev, the two didn’t get along and Suriya quit the camp. An official of the Tamil Nadu state unit said she was on the verge of quitting athletics, but was persuaded by her father S Loganathan not to. Her father, a former distance runner, guided her in formative years, before Suriya began training under Surendra Singh, whose national 10,000m record of 28:02.69, set at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, still stands. These days, Suriya trains at Ooty with other distance runners including G Laxmanan who is also from Pudukottai. Marathon runner Nitendra Singh Rawat and Gopi T are the other big names in the camp.
What inspired her to take up athletics? As a school-going student, says Suriya, she followed her father when he went outdoors for his usual training. She recalls, “I must have been 11 or 12 years old then. It was good fun to go out, which otherwise was not possible.” However, the national champion never realised she would be passionately involved in athletics later on. “I started winning in local school competitions. It was baby steps to stardom,” she adds.
Way back, in 2006, middle-distance runner Santhi Soundararajan from the region made a mark at the international level. Suriya knows about the pain she went through after a podium finish in Doha. Suriya says, “Santhi was very hardworking. It was inspiring for all athletes in the region.”
Suriya is nearly six years younger to OP Jaisha, who has already qualified for Rio in marathon. Jaisha is training under the foreign coach and it would be interesting to see both duel it out on the track in upcoming competitions. With hunger in her belly to do better, says Surendra, she would be one to watch in the coming days, adding,” She has the desire to do better. That make her more competitive on the track.”