Sriram Singh: ‘We must accept that at world level we are lagging behind’

Sriram Singh, who advocated high-level monitoring of promising athletes, did not expect any athletics medal at the Tokyo Olympics next year.

File picture of Sriram Singh (left) with Anju Bobby George.   -  Special Arrangement

His national record of 1:45.77 in 800m stood for 42 years before Jinson Johnson broke it with a 1:45.65 at Guwahati at the inter-state athletics championship in 2018. Sriram Singh was delighted. “It reflected progress, even if late,” smiled the gentle veteran. Sriram was in Delhi to receive the felicitation award by New Delhi YMCA.

Sriram, fit as ever, acknowledged the “overall” progress made by Indian sport. “One should be optimistic but realistic. Winning a medal at Asian level in athletics is different from similar honours at Olympics. The gap is huge and demanding. We must accept that at world level we are lagging behind and need to put in greater efforts. The performances of our athletes do not complement the facilities they receive,” he said as a matter of fact.

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Way of life

For Sriram, training, three times a day, was way of life. He would train assiduously, in rain and heat, pushing himself, often with none for company, trying to set new banchmarks. Silver in the 1970 Asian Games followed by gold medals in 1974 and 1978 established Sriram among the greats of India. His best came at Montreal in 1976 when he finished seventh in 800m.

His only lament, after persistent questions, was the “detestable” use of dope in modern athletics to achieve success. “I hold the Federation and the coaches responsible for this menace. It can’t survive without their tacit support. It is a worldwide phenomenon and should be crushed universally. But what to do when the athlete, coaches and federations look for short-cuts. It impacts the entire gamut of sport. You need dope when you train less, as simple as that.”

Not expecting medals

Sriram, who advocated high-level monitoring of promising athletes, did not expect any athletics medal at the Tokyo Olympics next year. “I know Hima Das and Neeraj Chopra have been working very hard. But the rest of the world is also working hard. I would still back Neeraj for a medal (in javelin throw) because he has the potential. But he has to recover from his (elbow) injury. It is a challenge which he understands the best.”

The 71-year-old Sriram was flooded with memories as he received the award on Saturday at the event held to celebrate 175 years of the YMCA. “I first ran here in 1973. The field was as competitive as a national championship. It feels good to return to these familiar places. It makes me happy. I and the athletics fraternity would be happier if Neeraj recovers and brings a medal at Tokyo,” said Sriram with hope in his voice.