The Asian Games (Bangkok 1998) was well on its way when the athletics event started and India had not been able to strike anything significant till then.
When I won the 1500m gold, it was the first big medal for India in that Asian Games. It was a big moment of glory as my country could make a significant mark.
Next, I picked up the second gold, this time in my pet event, the 800m. It was a great feeling as I alone had picked up two individual golds in the total of seven golds that India won in that edition.
I attempted the 1500m as a side event. When I saw that I could win the 1500m with a good timing, I became confident of putting up another good showing in the 800m. I had trained for the event with all intensity and had got a lot of support from the federation, which helped me with a foreign coach and a doctor from a full six months before the event. I could improve my timing because of that.
Getting to that level was quite difficult 20 years ago as the facilities were minimal. The athletes now get a lot of international events all through the year and that helps them maintain a good level of performance. They are getting 80 percent more support that what we used to get.
I particularly remember the mix-up during the medal ceremony of the 1500m when the organisers played the national anthem of China instead of the Indian national anthem (Wang Qingfen of China had won the silver). I felt quite embarrassed with the mix-up, standing on the victory stand. The organisers, however, were quick to realise their mistake and rectified it.
(As told to Amitabha Das Sharma)
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