G Lakshmanan with his childhood coach S. Loganathan.
When G Lakshmanan crossed the finish line at the 10,000m event at the Asian Games, his childhood coach S. Loganathan did not celebrate what seemed like a bronze-medal finish. He was cautious in not letting his emotions take over because, deep down, an incident that happened with another ward more than a decade back was running in his mind. Middle-distance runner Santhi Soundarajan’s joy of winning silver in the 2006 Asian Games was short-lived after the medal was snatched away for “failing a sex verification test”. Least did he expect that at the Jakarta event, he would witness another of his former wards, Lakshmanan, get “his medal snatched” too, this time for lane infringement. “When he crossed the line, I did not react. I started receiving congratulatory calls but even then I did not celebrate. Just a while later I get calls telling me he had been disqualified. I couldn’t bear it. This is the second time one of my kids lost an Asian Games medal. But what can we do, we need to move on now,” Loganathan opened up to the Indian Express.
Loganathan, a former customs officer, had been training kids free of cost at a cattle grazing field about about four kilometres from his home. Lakshmanan, who would later go on to live with his family, joined the coaching programme as a young school kid. Loganathan recalls that Lakshmanan would laugh when he told him he would go on to win international medals one day.
Barring an Asian Games medal, Lakshmanan has an impressive CV. Gold medals in 10 and 5k events at the 2017 Asian Championship, a silver and bronze in the 2015 edition of the same competition in the 10 and 5k event respectively, apart from numerous national titles.
At the race, Lakshmanan had initially clocked an impressive 29:44.91s to finish third behind Chani Hassan (23:35.54s) and Cheroben Abraham (29:00.29s). But video replays showed his left foot hand landed outside the innermost lane at a bend which earned him a disqualification.
For a good 20 minutes after the race, Lakshmanan thought he had secured a bronze and was enjoying the high of winning what would have been a first medal at the 10k event since Gulab Chand’s bronze back in 1998 Bangkok Asian Games. “I was waiting for the medal ceremony and then came this news of being disqualified. I was shattered and couldn’t believe what I just heard. Just moments ago I was preparing to step onto the podium and then I am told this. My heart sank as I stood there in silence, inconsolable,” Lakshmanan said. It was an event he has been preparing since the last four years, shaving off precious seconds at the national camp in Ooty under the able guidance of Army coach Surinder Singh Bhandari.
At the training, he ran an average of 250 kilometres a week. The Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu runner trained rigorously at the pre-competition camp in Bhutan and was in the best of shapes to medal at the Games. But one misstep undid all the efforts he had put in.
“I trained for four years for the race. I ran thousands of kilometres preparing for the race and just one step, probably less than a metre, and l lose everything. How do I explain the agony I felt? For five days I could not sleep. It was my sister Suriya (also an international middle-distance runner and Loganathan’s daughter) who sat besides me and consoled me. It took special courage for me to return for my 5k event in a few days after the setback,” he added.
But the Armyman feels it’s not the time to look back and ponder over what has happened but prepare for the next event.
The 28-year-old also got a huge morale boost when the sport ministry decided to award him a cash prize of Rs 10 lakh to “encourage the athlete to keep doing the hard work and strive for medals”.
“It’s not about the prize-money, it’s about the intent. The sports minister called me and spoke to me personally and said ‘you ran a good race and the medal was yours if not for the unfortunate incident’. The prize-money will certainly help me but that’s what I run for. I run for medals and to bring laurels for the country,” Lakshmanan said.
with the Express Morning Briefing