A little less than 24 hours ago, Parul Chaudhary ran a punishing 3000m steeplechase but lost out on the gold medal. On Tuesday night, she pulled off a thrilling heist in the final 50m of the 5000m race, clocking 15:14.75, and the finish line and the gold medal represented something more for her.
“In the last 50m, I was thinking that my government would give me a nice job. DYSP (Deputy Superintendent of Police) means it’s good,” said Parul, who works with the Railways.
“Hamari UP Police aisi hai ki gold medal lekar aaenge toh DYSP bana denge. [In UP Police, only if we win a gold medal, they will give you such a posting.]”
AS IT HAPPENED | ASIAN-GAMES-2023 OCTOBER 3 HIGHLIGHTS
At the beginning of the last two laps, Parul was third behind Japan’s Ririka Hironaka and Bahrain’s Bontu Rebitu. She first sprinted past Rebitu and kept pace with Hironaka, who thought she had won the race with 100m to go. But Parul with her long strides found a sudden burst of pace to overtake the Japanese.
Scott Simmons, who runs India’s distance running programme, wanted Parul to make it 74 seconds per lap so she could achieve a time below 15:20.00. But in the final lap, Parul put the ‘finishing kicks’ to complete the lap under 65 seconds to steal the win. In the past two years, Simmons has worked on Parul’s speed development outside her 5000m training, and that enabled her to finish the race strongly.
“The strategy was to stay with the pack regardless of the pace. If the pace was too slow, we wanted her to push. But she never had to. The Japanese set a solid pace. It slowed in the middle, and when it started to heat up in the last 1000m, she looked like she was feeling strong. So she went with the Japanese, and then we trained specifically for finishing kicks. And she has it,” said Simmons, who believes that Parul is at the ‘world-class level’ in distance running.
The win was quite incredible, considering Parul had to overcome the disappointment of a tiring race from the previous night and managed just three hours of sleep before the race day. “Since I was not able to win a gold medal in steeplechase, I wanted to get a gold in 5000m. God was kind enough tonight,” said the 28-year-old.
At the end of the race, Parul fell to her knees and kissed the track before she got up and raised her hands in gratitude.
Parul’s gold was India’s first in the 5000m discipline at the Asian Games since it was introduced at the 1998 Bangkok edition. Overall, it was India’s ninth medal in long-distance running at the Hangzhou Asian Games.
Parul holds the national record for 3000m (8:57.19), 5000m (15:10.35), and 3000m steeplechase (9:15.31). She recently became the second Indian to qualify for the 3000m steeplechase final, her pet event, at the World Athletics Championships in August, where she breached the national record and qualified for the Paris Olympics.
“Everything is a step above from last year. Her long runs have progressed up to 30km, which was not [the case] before. The volume of her workouts has progressed towards 10,000m on the track. So, she is showing that kind of strength,” said Simmons.
Simmons is confident of Parul qualifying for the Olympics 5000m in March when she competes in the Indoor Championships in Glasgow. “We are within 12 months of the Paris Olympics now. We don’t have much time to lose. She is much fitter than what her personal best is,” said the American.
Parul will surely not rest on her laurels and is already charting her path to the Olympics. “I don’t think she unwinds,” laughed Simmons. “She is pretty serious.”
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