In August this year, Rupal Chaudhary entered the record books when she won bronze in the junior Athletics World championships in Cali, Colombia.
What was remarkable about the achievement of the 17-year-old from Shahpur, Jainpur village in Meerut was that this was her second medal of the World Championships – she had earlier won a silver in the 4x400m mixed relay event. With her second medal in Cali, Rupal became the first Indian to win two medals at the junior World Championships.
Despite running four 400m races over just 3 days, what impressed followers of the sport was that Rupal was getting even faster with every successive race. She won her heat with a time of 52.50 just .02 seconds slower than her then personal best. She improved that further with a time of 52.27 in the semifinals before making a massive improvement with a time of 51.85 in the final.
Becoming only the second Indian to medal in the 400m at the junior worlds and the first to medal in multiple events, Rupal is now being seen as a critical member of the Indian relay team that will be looking to defend its relay gold from the 2018 Asian Games. It’s little surprise that Rupal was honoured with the Hero emerging award at the first-ever Sportstar North Sports Conclave held in Lucknow on Thursday.
Hailing from a family with modest means, her father being a small-time farmer in Shahpur Jainpur village in UP’s Meerut district, the 17-year-old’s journey to the cusp of athletics stardom was anything but smooth.
Rupal’s desire to run began in 2016 after watching the Rio Olympics on TV. “I saw the Rio Olympics in 2016. I saw PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik won medals there. After that, I decided I wanted to become an athlete. I didn’t know how I would become one but I had to do it,” she says.
The only athletics stadium though was in Meerut. And Omvir couldn’t be convinced to let his daughter go there. “At first he told me he would take me to the stadium but he kept making some excuse or the other to delay it. He probably thought I would lose interest as well,” says Rupal.
But rather than giving up, the then 12-year-old persisted. Finally, in September 2017, after a year of no success, she raised the stakes.“After a year, I realised my father wasn’t planning on sending me to the stadium. So I decided to do a bhook hartal (hunger strike),” she says.“At first he thought I’d give up but after three days he realised I was very serious. Only then he decided to take me. Mere zid ke samne unko tekna pada (he had to bend to my will),” she says.
It was also difficult in finding a place to train. The synthetic track at Meerut’s Kailash Prakash Stadium was in a state of disrepair and the toilets were dirty. To find a running track, she’d have to make the 120km round trip to New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru stadium with her coach Vishal Saxena.
That effort and dedication would pay off when she had her first major breakthrough at the 400m Nationals in New Delhi last year. There, she clocked 53.73 seconds in the U-18 final to win the national title.
The coaches and athletes, including foreign national coach Galina Bukharina, watching the race knew they are looking at a special talent as she defeated her nearest opponent by a 60m gap to the finish line. Statistics paid further homage to her showing as she was faster than the U-20 podium finishers in the competition.
Rupal has only become faster with every race. Her coaches are optimistic she will get even better. Rupal though insists she’s a long way from done. “My dream from the very start was to go to the Olympics and represent India. I’ve just started my senior career now. There is still a long way for me to go. Abhi toh bohot bhook hai (Right now there is a lot of hunger),” she told Sportstar.
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