Nitendra Singh treating Olympics "like a mission"

From making the Rio grade in his first-ever marathon last year, to smashing the Indian course record at the Mumbai Marathon in early 2016 by claiming the gold at South Asian Games (SAG), it has been a series of one meticulous step after the other.

“Qualifying in my first-ever marathon gave me a lot of confidence,” said Nitendra Singh Rawat.   -  Vivek Bendre

Ever since he became one of the earliest track and field athletes to qualify for the Rio Olympics, Nitendra Singh Rawat, by his own admission, has been treating Olympics “like a mission.” From making the Rio grade in his first-ever marathon last year, to smashing the Indian course record at the Mumbai Marathon in early 2016 by claiming the gold at South Asian Games (SAG), it has been a series of one meticulous step after the other.

But on the face of it, none of these seem to have strained him. Perhaps this is what he learnt during his years as a Havildar in the 6 Kumaon Regiment. As he gets ready to embark on his maiden Rio sojourn, his appearance and utterances are close to being stoic.

“My preparation is based on my own targets,” he said. “And that is to go under 2 hours 10 minutes. If I get a medal, then great. But even if I don’t, at least I will have the satisfaction of having achieved my own target. I am not unduly bothered about medal timings.”

For someone who started competing in marathons only over a year ago his timings have been remarkable. Formerly a 5000m runner, his coach Surendra Bhandari — himself one of India’s finest middle-distance runners and holder of the 3000m and10000m national records — made him run a distance 30 odd kilometres at a stretch only in February 2015.

In October that year, he clocked 2:18:06 at the World Military Games to qualify for Rio. In Mumbai he improved his timing to 2:15:48 and the gold at SAG came in 2:15:18.

“Qualifying in my first-ever marathon gave me a lot of confidence,” he said. “I was the first to train for marathon (among those under Bhandari). Back then it was more like experimenting. So as to find out what will be good. The first goal was to run under 2:20. Then in Mumbai target was to go under 2:16. We were able to achieve all that. So now we have good knowledge (of what’s possible). Going under 2:10 is the target.”

In this pursuit of his, he can count on help from T. Gopi and Kheta Ram, the other two of Bhandari’s wards. In fact it will be the first time since the 1960 Rome Olympics that three Indians will be running in a marathon.

“When we run alone, we have to strategise everything on our own,” he said. “In that case we get tired early. Now with three people we can share the workload. We can divide the whole race into blocks of 5km and we can take turns to set the pace.”

Owing to the training schedule, the 29-year-old has had to even postpone his wedding.

“Let’s see after the Olympics. No date has been fixed yet. Actually I was thinking…there is the World Championship next year. If I don’t get a good result (in Olympics), I might have to postpone again,” he said laughingly.