Gopi sets sights on Olympic qualification

Thonakal Gopi feels earning a spot in Tokyo will be a tough ask, as the qualification time has been set at 2:11:30s, nearly two minutes under his personal best.

Thonakal Gopi entered the Seoul International Marathon in March without a coach or support staff, but yet managed to clock a personal best time of 2 hours, 13 minutes and 39 seconds to finish 11th.   -  ashwin achal

Just a few months ago, marathon runner Thonakal Gopi was on the outside looking in. He was not part of the Indian athletics contingent which trained at the SAI campus here. Undeterred, Gopi took a room on rent near the SAI campus and continued to train with his peers.

Key member

He entered the Seoul International Marathon in March without a coach or support staff, but yet managed to clock a personal best time of 2 hours, 13 minutes and 39 seconds to finish 11th. It was a fine performance in the face of adversity, enough to earn a spot in the upcoming Doha World athletics championships.

Gopi is now a key member of the Indian athletics contingent. “When I was not part of the India camp, it was tough, as I had to manage everything on my own – pay rent, cook my food and so on. But I kept my focus on training and improving my timing. Things are different now – I have a coach, physio and all the support that anathlete needs,” a pleased Gopi said, at an event hosted by sportswear company ASICS here on Thursday.

Gopi is training hard to do well in the World championships. “The aim is to break my record at Doha, and to push for Olympics qualification,” Gopi said.

Tough ask

Earning a spot in Tokyo will be a tough ask, as the qualification time has been set at 2:11:30s, nearly two minutes under his personal best. “It will be hard, but I’m going to do train hard and do my very best,” Gopi said.

In a first, the marathon events at the World Championships will be held at midnight. The unusually late start will help avoid the high day-time temperatures. “I have never run at midnight, so I’m unsure about what to expect. It is impossible to recreate the exact conditions during training, as we cannot do practice runs at midnight(laughs). So we do the bulk of our training in the evening. The diet regime changes as well. Usually, we start eating and carbohydrate loading at 3 a.m., if the marathon starts at 7 a.m. For a midnight start, we eat at around 7 p.m., which is much more comfortable,” Gopi said.

Tougher competition

Middle-distance runner Jinson Johnson, meanwhile, is all set to start his training in Colorado Springs (USA), under coach Scott Simons. Johnson believes that the move - cleared by Sports Authority of India (SAI) under the Target Olympic Podium Scheme – gives him the best chance of qualifying for the 2020 Olympics. The 1,500m runner will start his qualification quest by entering an event in Germany next month. “Training and competing abroad will give me an advantage, as the competition is tougher abroad. I’ll also be exposed to different conditions and training methods, which will help,” Johnson said.