Gopi hits marathon jackpot in first attempt

Thonackal Gopi is still coming to terms with attaining Olympic qualification after completing a marathon for the first time in his life. For an Army personnel looking to break into the world of professional sport, training with top athletes is a high point; finishing ahead of some of them in an international-level competition is a strange feeling.

Gopi’s time of 2:16:15 earned him second place in Indian category and 11th overall in men’s marathon that included African distance runners.   -  Vivek Bendre

Thonackal Gopi is still coming to terms with attaining Olympic qualification after completing a marathon for the first time in his life. For an Army personnel looking to break into the world of professional sport, training with top athletes is a high point; finishing ahead of some of them in an international-level competition is a strange feeling.

Gopi came with his training partners for the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2016 to boost their timings. Asked to be the pace-setter for faster distance runners eyeing Olympic qualification at Rio, his role was like a member of the support staff with the Army Sports Institute (ASI) group of runners

Like winning a lottery jackpot at first try, Gopi’s 2:16:15 time earned him second place in Indian category and 11th overall in men’s marathon that included African distance runners. “I run with Nitendra Singh, Kheta Ram and others during training. So when coach (Surender Singh Bhandari) asked me to set the pace for them and move out at 30-kms, I was happy to oblige.”

He set off without anything on his mind. “At the 30-km point, I felt my body was okay and decided to keep going and try to complete the marathon.” The voyage into the unknown earned him Rs 4,00,000 and Rs 75,00 share of bonus for beating the course record for an Indian. “Prize money will be used to buy running shoes,” said the ASI athete.

Ethiopian Abraham Girma (12), Kenyan David Kiyeng (13) and South African Lungile Gongqa (14) finished after Gopi, meanwhile two well-known army runners Kheta Ram and Elam Singh finished 15{+t}{+h} and 16{+t}{+h} respectively.

Gopi, who studied in Kakkavayil School, looked at sport as an outlet for his energy. Getting into the army as a general recruit after graduating from college (Mar Athanasius College) gave this farmer’s son a look at athletics seriously. Next stopover is the high-altitude training in Ooty, where the three marathoners will regroup after the Mumbai outing, carrying with them medals, certificates and respect.