Avinash Sable wants to forget the Commonwealth Games silver soon. “I need to forget this achievement first,” the 3000m steeplechase medallist tells Sportstar, on his return from Birmingham.
“I have to restart training as if I have not achieved anything. I do feel happy. But the main focus is to be better and not believe I have achieved something extraordinary. I remember my losses and learn from them. I forget my victories.”
This mentality, perhaps, helped Sable overcome the disappointment of finishing 11th at the World Championships. In the slowest steeplechase final in World Championships history, he clocked 8:31.75s, his worst time since October 2019. In Birmingham, he went 8:11.20s for silver and bettered his personal best for the ninth time.
“It was a very difficult time,” Sable says of the period after the Worlds. “I was training in the USA and everybody there believed ‘Avinash is going to win a medal’. I, too, thought that my practice was good.
“But I had never experienced such a race in my life. The race was slow, and I was behind. I didn’t know what happened. I had done a lot of speed workouts and still could do nothing. I finished 11th and thought, ‘I could have finished 11th even without any practice. If I could not achieve anything with so much good practice, maybe I will not achieve anything ever.
But the despondence did not last long. Training was the only tool the 27-year-old knew about. Belief in his methods soon returned. It was enough to tell him that he could break the Kenyan hegemony in men’s steeplechase, where they had won all 18 medals since the 1998 edition.
“When I was in the U.S, the Kenyan athletes used to train there. I used to practice with them as an equal. I thought, ‘If I can practice with them, why can’t I compete?’ Earlier, we had not seen them and did not know how they raced. But here I was with them, practicing. So, I told myself that a medal was the target.
“My main focus was not to run a slow race. So, I went fast in the opening lap, and the others followed. Initially, I had a mindset that I should get a medal - of whichever colour. But once there, I wanted to win gold. Maybe there was a slight mistake in where I tried to take off. I still had a lot of energy left, but I could not beat him (Abraham Kibiwot).”
The difference was just five-hundredths of a second. One of the most endearing images from CWG 2022 will be of Sable, with the whole crowd behind him, nearly beating Kibiwot for the gold. But Sable, like always, wants to look at the bigger picture.
“If you keep thinking about the CWG and Asian levels, you cannot win at the Worlds,” Sable says. “An Asian medal or a CWG medal can change an athlete’s life. Yes. But, I do not want to think like that. When I was young, all I wanted in the army was a promotion to Havaldar. My thinking was only so much. Then, I wanted to do well in cross country running. That’s all.
“But, when I moved from cross country to steeplechase, that’s when things changed. I got a promotion also. I then told myself: fight for the things which you will not get easily. Try for the things that are not easy, that no Indian is thinking, of beating the Kenyans, winning medals at the Worlds.”
The last desire is what will drive him in the coming months. “There will be times when you go down after a good performance. Like after winning a medal or continuously breaking records. I should not let that happen,” the CWG silver-medallist said.
“So, the next few months are all about preparing for the World Championships….and Asian Games. I need to peak for those. At the Worlds, I could not win a medal. Maybe it was not my day, and I did not have enough luck. But it is equally possible that there was some mistake by me. So, the main focus will be to do well at the Worlds.”
“I will go back to what coach Nikolai (Snesarev) used to tell me. He always treated me as if I was a zero. But he also gave me the belief that I could win at the world level. I am what I am because of that (mentality).”
India may not forget Sable’s accomplishment in the near future. But Sable, by the looks of it, surely will.
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