Swapna Barman: Will enter competitions only in 2020

After a period of lull due to injuries, Swapna Barman is planning to get into the grind in 2020 leading up to the Olympics.

Swapna Barman on the podium after clinching gold at 2018 Asian Games.   -  Getty Images

Due to her injuries, Swapna Barman has had a quiet 2019 after winning laurels for India in 2017 and 2018. For her achievements, she was conferred the Arjuna award in August, 2019; she became the first athlete from West Bengal to earn it after Soma Biswas, in 2003.

Having nearly recovered from a back injury and meniscus tear, the heptathlete is close to full training. She is planning to start participating in competitions only from 2020, to try to enter and do well at the Olympics in Tokyo.

In the city to launch the VRCT Jacket by Adidas, the sports apparel brand, Barman talks to Sportstar about the significance of the Arjuna award, the 2018 Asian Games, her fitness, and her future plans.

Q. Getting the Arjuna award must have been a big moment for you. When you had started on this journey, did you ever dream about it?

A: I had never thought I would get the Arjuna award. I had thought that I have to get gold at the Asian Games. I participated in the Asian Games in 2014. I was 17 years old then; I came fifth. I was junior then; as a junior, I used to come first everywhere. In the senior category, I came fifth — felt a little bad but then I was a junior. So, then, I asked my coach when the next version of this competition will be. [My coach] told me — it happens once every four years; I didn't know about it. Then sir said, 'You must be made to practise. After all, your competitors are not going to stop training.' Then I thought, 'I should get a medal next time.' Then I practised; come what may, I thought I will bring home a medal. Then I got the gold medal at the Asian Championship. The athletes at the Asian Championship are the same ones who participate in the Asian Games; so when I got the gold medal at the Asian Championship, then I thought if I could practise a little better...better competitors may participate next year.

In 2018, my competitors were the same. The one who got the gold in 2014; she was also there. I thought I must give my best. I had visualised the gold.

But the Arjuna award; I had never thought about it. When the gold medal at the Asian Games was confirmed, only then did it enter my mind. They had recommended Hima Das and myself for the award. But it was good Hima won it in 2018; she had performed well. Then, I thought, 'let's see if I get it in 2019.' My name was again recommended by SAI and AFI.

Swapna Barman receiving the Arjuna Award from President Ram Nath Kovind.   -  PTI Photo


What was the reaction of your parents?

My parents thought, 'Our daughter is doing well, surging ahead.' It's a matter of joy for them.

You have stated before that your coach should have won the Dronacharya award. Tell us why you think so and what his influence has been on your career.

The joy I felt after winning the award would have been doubled if he had received the Dronacharya award, because he was the reason I got the Arjuna award. If he hadn't made me practise and train, then I don't think I would have got it. If he had received the award, it would have been great.

What was your experience in the 2014 Asian Games like? And did it prepare you for the 2018 Games?

The 2014 Asian Games was my first competition in the senior category. I had gone there, but there was no one to guide me. If the coach had accompanied me, then he would have pointed out where I was going wrong. Till then, [my coach] had accompanied me in all competitions I participated in. But he hadn't come then; I was a junior then, who would think...? (laughs) I thought, with a little better performance, I could come third at least. In 2014, the person who had come third had tallied only 5,400-odd. My best had been 5,400 - nearly the same. If there had been someone to guide me there, maybe I could have done better.

My days went by just watching those big athletes, because I had never seen them live before. The athletes I watched on television were in front of me.

I learnt I had to focus only on myself. I should not be distracted by any other thing. I had confidence in 2018; after much practice, and injuries, this and that, and my home. I have seen a lot, with my family background. Sir used to work hard with me and a lot of people helped me for me to perform well at the Asian Games. So, I thought, so many people were working for me, I should give it my 100 percent. I gave my 100 percent with these thoughts in my head. I believed in myself; I thought, 'those same athletes are going to come now.' Let's see, how much I can compete with them this time. Finally, I won the gold.

I worked on technical aspects during these four years, like the 800m. I just don't like the 800m. I like the high jump. I like it from my childhood. In my childhood, the worst was the 800m. There's so much of practice needed for it. I just don't like it. However, if that's not there, it's impossible to win the gold. So, that is also more or less now my favourite event. Because, what can I do? I have to accept it. If I don't do it, I cannot get ahead. So, that, too.

Do you have any role models?

I never had any role model as a young kid. But after having grown up, I look up to Jessica Ennis-Hill. She is Adidas' athlete. I really like her now. She was also a heptathlete; she had won the gold in the Olympics in 2012.

Do you have a government job now?

I haven't yet accepted a government job. Offers are there, but let's see. There are talks going on. For every athlete, if there's a confirmed job, then there's no tension. Then, you focus wholly on sports. That hasn't happened for me yet, hopefully, that will happen soon.

But you're not willing to rush it, because you want to focus on your career first...

Yes, because the Olympics is coming. That apart, my decision to enter sports was to get a job. But I will certainly get a job somewhere; at least, a modest job. But I thought if everyone was practising and earning laurels for the country, let's also try and see. There's only one life, so let me give it a shot. Now, I just want to earn a medal for India.

Do you wish to get your parents to come and live in Kolkata?

It depends on them, whether they want to come to Kolkata. We are four brothers and sisters. They live [in Jalpaiguri]; didi has got married, and I'm here. So, my wish is to get my parents to Kolkata. But they may perhaps not come, because they're used to living in the village from childhood. In the city, nobody visits each other's homes. There, everyone talks to everyone else. Then, interacting with relatives. Us visiting our relatives' home, or them coming over to our home. If they come to the city, they won't get this. Due to this, I don't think they wish to come.

But if I ask my parents to come, and tell them, 'please come, it will be good for me,' then they will surely come.

But you spend most of your time of the year in Kolkata, isn't it?

I'm from Jalpaiguri, but I spend most of my time of the year in Kolkata. Ahead of my Asian Games, I had gone home only after 11 months.

I don't know the city so much. Where is the time to explore? Now, there's Flipkart and other things, so the stuff comes there itself [and you don't have to venture out]. So, I don't go out so much. It's just the airport, the railway station, and a bit of shopping mall. That's it, more or less. I haven't explored the city so much, but I wish to, some time, jodi taanaa chhuti pai (if I get an extensive period off), then I'll see.

Are you fully fit now?

I'm more or less fit. You people know, I have back pain and a meniscus tear. For the moment, I have recovered, but I haven't been able to get down to practise 100 percent. Right now, I'm able to walk and run 95 percent. Of course, there is the effect of the injury - five percent. I don't have any injury now, but I haven't been able to figure out whether the injuries could return after I start practising. But at the moment, I'm fit.

I do rehab every day, wherever I am.

I'm not fit enough for competition. I haven't practised enough to participate in competitions. But I'm more or less fit otherwise.

Now that you wear customised shoes for your feet (she has six toes on each foot), is it more comfortable and better than the shoes you wore earlier?

This is better. I had trained with the other shoes more, but this is good. I don't get pain, but the spikes I wear are customised. But some pain is there. After all, my feet are quite broad. But it's all right.

In the near future, which competitions will you be participating in? And are you gearing up for the Olympics?

I won't participate in any competition in 2019, as I had injuries. I wish to enter competitions only in 2020. If they're in India, well and good. If they're abroad, I will partipate there; come what may, I will try and do well in the Olympics, 100 percent.

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