Avinash Sable had a debut to remember at the Diamond League in Rabat on Sunday night. The 27-old Olympian broke his own national record in the 3000m steeplechase for the seventh time lopping off nearly 4 seconds from his personal best, clocking a remarkable 8.12.48. In an absolute killers row of a competition field, that took him to a very credible fifth place -- ahead of the Olympic bronze medallist Benjamin Kigen and just a hundredth of a second behind 2016 champion Consenslus Kipruto.
Depending on how it eventually shapes up, Rabat could be an important milestone in Sable’s career. “He’s in a position where he’s starting to run with the best in the world and in Rabat he’s seeing he’s right up there,” says Sable’s coach Nick Simmons.
But for all its significance, Sable very nearly never made it to Morocco at all. Mass flight cancellations in the USA at the last moment left him stranded in Denver, USA where he is currently training, leaving coaches and TOPs officials scrambling to make alternate arrangements. “He got the last seat available at the last minute. Then in New York he had almost no time before his transfer to Morocco. Any later and he probably wouldn’t have made it. It was really nerve-racking for him,” says Simmons.
At another time perhaps Simmons might not have put Sable through the headache of rushing through airport transfers and last-minute hunting for tickets. “I’m glad he could get to his first Diamond League meeting. He really needed to compete at this Diamond League,” says Simmons. “But he was getting a chance to compete with two Olympic gold medallists (Soufiane Bakkali and Consenslus Kipruto), and an Olympic silver (Lamecha Girma) and bronze medallists (Benjamin Kigen). The only time he’s competed with these athletes is at the World Championships and the Olympics and he needs this competition in advance so he knows what to do. For him to have the chance to eventually medal at this level of competition, he needs these opportunities,” says Simmons.
The absolutely world-class field Sable was competing in also had a direct impact on why he was able to pull down his Indian record by as much as he did. Ever since he first broke the Indian NR in 2018, it’s clear Sable, a soldier in the Mahar regiment, was India’s best runner in the event by a distance. “In most of the races he competes in especially in India, he’s the fastest runner by a distance (for perspective the next fastest Indian over the 3000m steeplechase since Sable first set a national record in 2018 is Shankar Lal Swami who clocked 8.32.01 this year). He’s always the one setting the pace for everyone else. The steeplechase is an event where if your first kilometer is slow, you aren’t going to have a fast time,” says Simmons.
While the field at the Diamond League was impressive at it was, the race also employed a pacesetter in the hope of creating a new world record. With everything in place, Simmons was expecting a blistering time. “I was expecting a good time from Avinash. He was finally getting the competition he needed,” says Simmons.
Sable himself couldn’t have run his race any better. As the more established runners started off briskly, Sable settled in the very tail of the group, before making his move in the last kilometer of the race. “The best part about his race was that he followed the plan perfectly. He went out to the back which was fine in a race like this. In India, if he goes out back, he was already going to be slow. But here there was no need to be upfront and push the pace because it was anyway going to be good. I told him this was the first opportunity where he didn’t have to worry about the pace. All he needed to do was relax and focus on himself. We knew in this field he could relax and settle in the first half he could push in the second half and finish strong in the last 600m which is exactly how he executed it,” says Simmons.
While Sable isn’t normally big into celebrating records and performances, he was particularly happy for this one. It came in a competition where not many expected as much from him (Simmons says it was hard for Sable to even sit for dope control since officials weren’t initially aware he had broken an Indian national record). He had not just held his own but had actually surprised a few more pedigreed runners.
“When you look at the field and how he finished, Avinash has a chance to medal at the World level and he has to start believing that as well. It’s not easy and not guaranteed but he’s in that position where he can medal,” says Simmons.
And while Simmons says he would have happily taken fifth place and an 8.12. finish ahead of the Diamond League, he knows Sable can and also must run even faster. “He was obviously very proud of how fast he’s run this time. Avinash’s improved his record over and over again in the past. But once you start getting into world-class range, it's a lot harder for that to happen. Particularly to do it like he has done with as big an improvement as he did,” says Simmons. “I think he can run under 8.10 and to be honest if he wants to have a hope to win a medal he will have to run under 8.10. He might not need to run 8.10 specifically at the World Championships. But he needs to have the potential to run under 8.10,” he says.
For that Sable will have to focus on finishing even stronger than he did. “He’s there and he’s competitive with those guys but he needs to finish the final lap under 60 seconds. He’s wasn’t able to do that here because he hasn’t got the training for that just yet,” says Simmons.
The World Championships are in the middle of July and Simmons feels that enough time for his runner to improve even further. Sable had travelled to Colorado to train with Simmons in April this year and the intensity of training was something he’s only slowly getting used to. “Avinash has a solid six-week block of training before the world championships. In this block, he will get stronger by quite a bit. He’s already doing a lot of things right but now he will do it even better. The volume of his workouts will increase. The intensity of his workouts will increase as well and get faster. He’s ready for that next step in training,” says Simmons.
And while Simmons would have wanted this block of training to be even longer, he knows that it was necessary to compete at the Diamond League. “Avinash has had 3 competitions in the USA this year. We normally wouldn’t do that but he really needed this competition It was the first Diamond league he was invited to. We needed to take advantage of that and we did,” he says.