Avinash Sable on vital exposure training at Colorado Springs - Hindustan Times
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Avinash Sable on vital exposure training at Colorado Springs

ByAvishek Roy, New Delhi
Aug 14, 2022 12:01 AM IST

The 27-year-old speaks of how everything came together to make his 3000m steeplechase final at the Commonwealth Games memorable.

One of the enduring images of this Commonwealth Games was Avinash Sable in hot pursuit of Kenya’s Abraham Kibiwot on the home straight of the 3000m steeplechase final. Kibiwot, surprised that Sable was still on his shoulder, pushed his exhausted body to the finish line, just about holding off Sable by five-hundredth of a second.

Avinash Sable poses for a photo with a silver medal that he won in the 3000m men's steeplechase event, at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) 2022(ANI) PREMIUM
Avinash Sable poses for a photo with a silver medal that he won in the 3000m men's steeplechase event, at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) 2022(ANI)

It was extraordinary, for the Kenyans as well as Sable.

Kenyans were the world leaders in steeplechase until the last two seasons. They had won nine straight Olympic gold medals until Tokyo and seven consecutive world championship titles, till last month in Eugene. In Tokyo and Eugene, the Kenyan dominance was broken by Soufiane El Bakkali of Morocco.

At the CWG, the Kenyan runners were lording over an even bigger realm. No non-Kenyan had managed a podium finish in the previous six editions. The three Kenyans in the mix in Birmingham were looking to keep that record intact, but Sable breached the fort with a powerful late surge.

Sable was an unlikely candidate to end the Kenyan sweep. He is far from becoming a sub 8-minute runner—he ran a national record 8:11.20 in the final in Birmingham—and is still known to run for national records. So, he is still viewed as an outsider by the pack of international steeplechasers. All that might have changed in the gripping race where Sable transformed from running his own race into a serious contender in major international events.

The most exciting thing for Sable was how quickly he changed gears after a disappointing 11th place at the World Championships barely a fortnight earlier. Unable to deal with an extremely slow race at Eugene, Sable’s tactic of staying at the back drew criticism. His timing of 8:31.75 was the slowest he had run in three years. But then, Sable is still a novice when it comes to gamesmanship in an obstacle race, which is as much about speed, endurance and agility as it is about executing tactics.

Of his three major races this year–Rabat Diamond League, Worlds and CWG, Sable’s Birmingham race stands out. He started at a fast pace to take the lead early, ensuring it would be of a high tempo and to his liking, and then was tucked behind the three Kenyans. He surged ahead again with 500m to go before the tussle with Kibiwot to the tape.

Sable has trained with Kenyan and US athletes at his Colorado Springs base this season. Under US coach Scott Simmons, he moved to the high altitude training centre in April where he was in a bunch of top steeplechasers.

“Agar kisi cheez to pana hain to najdik jaana parega (If you want to achieve something, you have to get close to it,” says Sable.

“I never saw how they train. I used to wonder how they have so much energy left till the end. We either run fast and get tired early or are tired by the final km. We can never beat them.

“When I saw their training, the speed work, group work, I could see how much hard work they put in. They never complain about not getting enough support from their government, not having camps, etc. They just train hard and push themselves.”

It brought a big change in Sable’s approach. After the Tokyo Olympics, Sable was low on confidence after failing to qualify for the final, despite setting a national record. But it was time he aimed for a bigger laurel. Sable knew he needed to move out of his comfort zone.

“Earlier, my mentality was to pick one of the Kenyan athletes and follow him, so at least the national record will be broken. Now the thinking has changed. I could see my capacity as I trained with them. In some workouts, I was doing even better. It filled me with self-confidence.”

Simmons saw the spark in Sable. He prepared him for a faster pace, fast hurdle clearances and a strong finish. Everything came together in Birmingham.

“This was the best I have seen him in competitions,” says Simmons.

Unlike the Worlds, Simmons prepared Sable to take the lead in CWG. Their worry was Conseslus Kipruto’s fast finish. Kipruto, a two-time world champion and 2016 Rio Olympics gold medallist, has clocked sub 8 minutes but has been struggling off late. Kipruto though was still good enough to win bronze at the worlds, ahead of compatriot Kibiwot, who finished fifth. In Birmingham, Sable and Kibiwot discussed and agreed to make it a fast race. Sable took the charge while Kibiwot injected more pace with Kipruto and the third Kenyan Amos Serem in front after the first lap.

“The Kenyans are always in a group. They make strategy together and it works to their advantage. They decide when to increase the pace, when to slow it down. I thought, “If I have to win a race, I need to draw one of them into my plan.

“Coach told me that in the first km you have to set the pace. I took a bit of time to see whether they were tired or not and then pushed ahead. By then Kibiwot had gone ahead, or else I could have beaten him,” says Sable.

Simmons was happy to see his progress from Worlds to CWG and his execution of strategy. He believes Sable is closer to a sub 8-minute finish.

“It is probably the best I have seen of him in a competition. I was excited to see that he wasn’t ready to settle for silver but to fight till the end. The season is not over yet. He can certainly run faster,” said Simmons.

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