On Thursday morning, much to the happiness of Tejaswin Shankar, the Athletics Federation of India announced in front of the Delhi High Court that the Indian high jump national record holder was included in the 36-member strong Indian track and field team for the Commonwealth Games. Shankar had controversially been excluded from the squad despite meeting the AFI’s own qualification guidelines. He had, then, approached the court for relief. 

“Last three weeks have been a sleepless roller coaster & to finally get an opportunity to rep India at  #CWG2022  is nothing short of a blessing. I have received lots of love but my heart goes out to mates who were equally deserving & missed,” Shankar tweeted after the court hearing.

 

However, Srinu Bugatha (2.16.26), Anish Thapa (2.16.41) in marathon, Jeswin Aldrin (8.26m) in long jump (8m), and Swapna Barman (5800 points) in heptathlon (5650 points) respectively, failed to make the squad despite meeting the qualification standards like Shankar, who met the AFI qualification standard of 2.27m in high jump.  

“I’m happy for Tejaswin. I’m not jealous that he’s part of the team. But I wonder what I did wrong,” Bugatha says. 

The 27-year-old’s hopes, which had been dashed a month ago when he was not included in the Indian squad, had been raised a week back after the AFI had told the court that Shankar and the three other athletes were provisionally included in the Indian team for the Commonwealth Games, provided the Indian Olympic Association increased the quotas available to the track and field contingent. Those hopes were crushed once again when he found out that only Shankar was included in the squad.

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Shankar has come into the squad replacing Arokia Rajiv, who had not met the qualification standard and failed a fitness trial conducted by the AFI a couple of days ago. However, two members of the team travelling to Birmingham – shot-putter Tajinder Pal Toor and Seema Punia are yet to meet the qualification guidelines laid down by the AFI. 

Bugatha had been one of the earliest to meet the AFI’s qualification standard of 2.18.00 when he won gold at the South Asian Marathon Championships in January this year with a time of 2.16.26. “After that race, I was told I had qualified for the Commonwealth Games, so I decided to focus on training solely for that race,” he says.

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Bugatha went for a training stint in Kenya. However, in his absence, Nitendra Singh Rawat won gold at the New Delhi Marathon with a time of 2.16.06. Rawat is the only marathon runner selected for the Games. 

“The New Delhi circuit is a flat one. I didn’t compete this year in New Delhi because I was told I had already qualified but when I did so last year I had a time of 2.14.59 (the third-fastest time ever recorded by an Indian). The circuit in Dhaka was a very hilly one. There were six very long flyovers on the route. It was a much harder circuit. If I knew that only one athlete was to be selected, I would have run in Delhi as well,” Bugatha says.

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Bugatha’s time in Dhaka was better than the winning time (2.16.46) at the Gold Coast Games four years ago. “After I was not picked it was hard to continue training.  Kaafi down feeling ho raha hai  (I’m feeling really low). I have been the best marathon runner in India for the past three years (Bugatha was the fastest Indian in both 2020 and 2021). It feels very painful. It feels like four years of hard work have gone to waste,” he says. 

Bugatha’s coach KC Ramu says that even if by a stroke of fortune Bugatha is included in the team, there is little chance of him living up to expectations. “Ever since he first found out that he was not going to be in the team last month, he’s not been able to focus on his training. So, even if Srinu is selected, how can we expect him to give the performance with so much pressure that he’s been under?” he asks. 

Ramu says he had told Bugatha that his chances of selection were slim but understands why he would continue to hold on to the last bit of hope. “I had told him earlier that even if you don’t go to the CWG it’s alright, we have a lot more time to prepare for the Asian Games and competition next year. But he is a very sensitive individual. He’s taken the rejection to heart. And he has put in so much effort over the last three years. Who wouldn’t be upset?” the asks.   

Coach Ramu wants Bugatha to use the experience as motivation. “ Dil laga ke taiyyari karni hogi  (We must prepare for the next season with all our hearts). We will prove our worth,” he says.