She thought herself to be worthy of it but veteran long distance runner Sudha Singh was nonetheless surprised when her name figured in this year' Padma Shri award winners' list.
The 34-year-old from Raebareli in Uttar Pradesh joined an elite list of track-and-field Padma winners comprising the likes of Milkha Singh, Anju Bobby George and P T Usha among others. She was nominated for this year's award by the Uttar Pradesh government.
"I was a bit surprised when I got the news that I have been awarded Padma Shri. I deserved to win it but you never know you will get it or not. I am grateful to the UP chief minister for nominating me," Sudha told PTI in an interview.
"I have won a lot of laurels at the international level since a bronze in 2005. I feel the award is recognition of my hard work and dedication in the last 15 years. Surely, winning the award is one of the biggest moments in my life," she said from Bengaluru's Sports Authority of India Centre, where she is currently training.
"When I started my athletics career, I never thought I would win Padma Shri one day. It has been an amazing journey." Sudha has taken part in two Olympics, three Asian Games, two World Championships and four Asian Championships, mostly in 3000m steeplechase, an event she held the national record before it was broken by Lalita Babar.
Her best achievement to date is the gold she won in the 2010 Asian Games. She won a silver in the same event in the 2018 edition of the Games.
She also won a gold in the 2017 Asian Championships besides three silver medals (2009, 2011 and 2013).
"After the (team) bronze in Asian Cross Country Championships in 2005, I got a job in Western Railways but after some time I got indications that I will have to keep winning medals if I have to continue the job.
"I did not want to lose the job which would have led to leaving athletics also. But after that I won gold in National Games in 2007 and National Championships (in 2007, 2008, 2009) before claiming a silver in 2009 Asian Championships. After that there was no fear of losing my job," she said.
Almost all her international achievements have come in 3000m steeplechase but Sudha is aiming for her third Olympics in marathon, an event in which she has represented the country in the 2015 World Championships.
"I want to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics in marathon, 3000m steeplechase is not my priority now as far as Olympics qualification is concerned. I am going to run in the New Delhi Marathon in March and there I am targeting Olympics qualification.
"I also want to break the national record, let's see," said Sudha who is going to give Mumbai Marathon on February 28 a miss.
"I want to start my season a bit late and moreover, it will be warmer in Mumbai by that time as compared to Delhi." She has a marathon personal best of 2:34.56 sec which she had clocked while finishing 10th in the 2019 Mumbai Marathon.
The Tokyo Olympics qualification time is 2:29.30 while the national record stands at 2:34:43 in the name of OP Jaisha.
Sudha has been running marathons since 2015.
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