Star Indian steeplechaser Avinash Sable has understood that to deliver at the big stage, just hard work would not suffice and mental conditioning will be key if he has to earn a shot at Olympic and World Championships medals.
The flop show at the World Championship in August 2022 came as a brutal shock for Sable, who kept wondering why he could not even qualify for the final despite being at the peak of his fitness.
The national record holder 3000m steeplechaser finished a disappointing seventh in his heat race to miss out on the medal race.
Since he does not have the support of a mental conditional coach, Sable is relying on YouTube to take lessons on Yoga, breathing exercises and meditation.
The benefit was immediate as the 29-year-old won a gold medal in his pet event at the Hangzhou Asian Games.
“I was at the peak of my fitness during the World Championships. I thought I was capable of winning a medal but I did not know what happened to me. Since I am not able to win a medal after training hard for two years, there is no harm in looking for a different training base and a new approach,” Sable told PTI on Monday.
“Timing is not the most important thing, winning is more important and so tactics and mental aspects are also important. You lose it in your mind,” said Sable on the sidelines of an event organised by sports nutrition providers Fast&Up.
“Many people told me to do yoga, breathing exercises and meditation. I have not done these before. But I did these during the Asian Games in Hangzhou by watching YouTube. I found it was beneficial to me,” he added.
He admitted that he sometimes suffers from bouts of depression after poor performances and goes into a shell.
Sable wants to train in Morocco till March next year and then shift to Colorado Springs in the USA and Europe before the Paris Olympics. He said, “I have requested the AFI, SAI and TOPS for a training stint in Morocco till the time temperature is low in Colorado Springs in the USA.”
“I have trained at Colorado Springs for two years and it’s very cold and it snows there till March. So, I want to train in Morocco for these three-four months during this time till March. I have requested the AFI, SAI and TOPS,”
“To prepare for the Olympics which is happening in Paris, I will also need to train in Europe, taking part in Diamond Leagues etc. I wanted to have a change in training base and approach as my focus is to win a medal in the Paris Olympics,” he added.
Sable did not say it in as many words but he indicated that he wants a mental conditioning coach to focus more on the mental and tactical aspects of his running.
“To win an Olympic medal, I need a complete package. I had physio but I did the mental conditioning part through video when I was in Colorado Springs. I need mental conditioning and support staff to deal with the mental aspect.” the 29-year-old athlete said.
Morocco will not be an alien base for Sable as he had trained at its capital Rabat in 2020. He explained, “Rabat is at sea level. There is a high-altitude training base in Morocco called Ifrane which is 1600m above sea level.”
Morocco is also home to reigning 3000m steeplechase Olympic and world champion Soufiane El Bakkali but Sable said both are unlikely to train together. “I have thought out all these after my disappointment at the World Championships. I have made the request to the federation (AFI), SAI and TOPS after returning from the Asian Games that I want to make changes in my training base and approach.”
Sable’s initiation to athletics is an interesting story. Till class 10, he could not win any medal in running even at the state level, so he decided to quit. He joined the Indian Army in 2012 and served as a normal soldier for four years as he was posted in the Siachen Glaciers and Rajasthan desert.
“My serious athletics career began only after joining the Indian Army. During those four years of normal duty, I used to run cross country but that happened occasionally like once or twice a year in the inter-company or inter-unit races,” Sable said.
“But I needed medals to get promotion and so I started running 5000m and 10000m races,” he said. He was then spotted by the Army coach Amrish Kumar who advised him to run 3000m steeplechase. That was in 2017 and the next year he won a silver medal in the Federation Cup.
Sable was hoping to make it to the 2018 Asian Games. But he finished third in the National Inter-State Championships which served as the qualifying event for the Jakarta Games and he could not make it to the Indian team.
“I cried a lot but coach Nikolai Snesarev told me to work hard instead of crying. That was the turning point, in a way not going to the 2018 Asian Games proved to be beneficial to me because I was into serious athletics for just one year then. It gave me the lesson that I must work hard to achieve success, and getting success quickly and easily would not have been good for me,” concluded the Asian Games 2023 silver medalist.
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