Photo of ace Indian distance runner Sudha Singh(HT Photo)
Photo of ace Indian distance runner Sudha Singh(HT Photo)

Sudha Singh eyes national marathon record, Tokyo qualification

The distance runner from Uttar Pradesh, awarded the Padma Shri, is confident of making a smooth switch having won two Asian Games medals in 3000m steeplechase.
PUBLISHED ON JAN 27, 2021 08:27 PM IST

Ace distance runner Sudha Singh will strive to break the long-standing national record in the women’s marathon and qualify for the Tokyo Olympics when she runs in an event in Kolkata on March 7. The national record of 2:34:43 seconds was set by Punjab’s OP Jaisha at Beijing in August 2015. To qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, Sudha must clock 2:29.30.

“In practice, I am touching the qualifying mark (pace) and my mission is also to break the national record,” the two-time Asian Games 3000m steeplechase medallist said on Wednesday.

The runner, who appeared in both 2012 (London) and 2016 (Rio) Olympics, would probably be appearing for the one “last time” in the Olympics, if she qualifies, in Tokyo.

“I would like to make a dream finish to my career at the international level. Making the grade for the Tokyo Games is my ultimate dream now,” said Sudha, who became the second woman sports personality from Uttar Pradesh to be honoured with the Padma Shri award. Badminton star Meena Shah was the first.

“I was surprised to see my name on the list of awardees on Monday. This will inspire me in my mission to break the national record and also qualify for Tokyo,” said Sudha, who won steeplechase gold at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games and silver at the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games.

“I am eligible for the qualifying (events) of both the 3000m steeplechase as well as marathon, but I will try my luck in marathon. If I fail to make the cut at the Kolkata event, I will move to other countries for the qualifying events,” she said.

Sudha has already received the Arjuna Award, Kanshi Ram award and the state government’s prestigious Rani Laxmi Bai award. She opted for a career in sports as she never liked studies.

“I used to be scolded for bunking classes and not studying. Somehow I completed Class 10. While appearing in the district-level athletics meet for my school Rajkiya Balika Vidyalaya (Devendrapur), I did everyone proud, winning three gold medals in 1997.

“The success turned my attention towards athletics. I finished on top in 800m, 1500m, and even in the three-km race, barefoot at the state championships in Basti before making it to the SAI Centre in Agra in 2001. I didn’t last long in Agra and decided to come home,” she said.

“I couldn’t make it to the Lucknow hostel in the first chance as I had a fifth-place finish (in 2002). But God helped me as I got a last-minute call for the final appearance in the trials when a girl refused to attend. This time, I finished on top to make it to the hostel.”

The path was never smooth, Sudha, 34, said. “The hostel inmates used to share the money we got from our parents, and even borrowed each other's T-shirts for meets. But we never lost the enthusiasm for winning.”

Things started changing after she won the three-km gold at the junior nationals in Shimoga in 2003. A medal at the 2005 Asian Cross-Country Championships in China in 2005 further improved her fortunes as she also landed a job in the railways.

Sudha said she hasn’t visited her home in Rae Bareli’s Shivji Nagar Colony since the 2018 Jakarta Games. “I didn’t want to miss my training. Even in the lockdown period, I kept working hard on my fitness at the NIS Patiala camp. I had a chance to see my parents when I was shifting to NIS Bengaluru, but again I chose to stay at the camp,” said Sudha, who is being trained by Olympian Surendra Singh, former national record holder in 10,000m.

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