Those who know Avinash Sable say he is a hard individual. In the Indian Army, he has served on icy mountains, dense forests and blistering deserts, never complaining. When he moved to athletics, he remained as stoic as ever. Coaches remark how he is unafraid to push himself to the limit, even when lactic acid is flooding his muscles, when every step is pain.
On Saturday, you could see that stoic facade crack. The 28-year-old was dragging himself back over the bridge that links the National Stadium to the warm-up area, minutes after failing to qualify for the 3000m steeplechase final.
Sable had stomped into the stadium full of confidence, with a bounce in his step, as his name was announced to the crowd for the steeplechase heat on day one of the World Athletics Championships in Budapest.
He had come into the World Championships in the best shape of his life. Having finished a surprise 11th at last year’s World Championships, he had focused on success this time.
Sable had acquired the experience of competing and winning in big races, bagging a silver at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Still early in the season, without even pushing himself, he ran close to his personal best. In Colorado, training with a world-class group, he matched running partners stride for stride. His no-nonsense goal was to fight for a medal. Making the final was an afterthought.
In Budapest, Sable stumbled. A desperate sprint in the final straight was not enough. He finished in 7th place with a time of eight minutes 22.24 seconds, just about a second and-a-half (1.26) away from the top 5 that would have qualified him for the final. As he slunk out of the stadium, he looked every inch the beaten man.
“ Podium ke liye itna prepare karte hain. Sab chhod dete hain (We prepare so much for the podium. We leave everything behind) just to do well in the main competition. And when we can’t, we feel very bad. Nirasha hoti hai (You feel dejected). We want to do well every time. Mehnat karne ke baad bhi safalta nahin mila to nirasha hoti hai (When you don’t achieve success despite working hard, of course, you will feel dejected),” he mumbled.
Sable believes he prepared well. “I had belief I would do well. Coach was saying my preparation was world class,” he said, almost in a daze.
For all the confidence in his build-up, he had a nervous energy about him all through the race, as if he was second-guessing how he should run. Should he stay in the pack with the rest of the field and trust his finishing kick to help him fight his way out of the box with the final line in sight? Or, should he stay out of trouble and take the longer line away from the field?
He tried staying close in, hanging with the leading group early on. A few unpleasant nicks to the back of his feet saw him jerk his head back and change tack. He moved wider. That saw him drop from 3rd place to 7th. Then with the final couple of laps to go, he swung back in. With the tighter angle, you could see the work he had been putting in this season come through. Soon, he was back in the top 3. After clearing the first hurdle of the penultimate lap, he actually led.
That lead lasted less than 100m. Sable didn’t stretch the gap and the rest of the field again closed around him. The Indian was boxed in – exactly where he did not want to be. He struggled to find his way out, even using his elbow in desperation. There was no respite. By the time the Indian found his way out, it was too late.
He was left with no one to blame but himself. “In that last lap, I couldn’t decide whether to leave (the group) or not. I think I felt that my fitness is good, (I’ll probably finish in the top 5) why not leave something for the final,” he said.
It was a fatal mistake and Sable was left thinking probably the worst two words an athlete can at such moments — if only. “Maybe, if only I had pushed hard, I don’t think I would have been stuck,” he said.
If Sable hadn’t worked as hard, perhaps, he wouldn’t be hurting as much. Critics will talk about lack of big match temperament. Sable doesn’t care about that. He is just bewildered at this point. “You don’t feel satisfied... If you don’t do it after feeling prepared. It doesn’t feel bad what people say. It feels bad that I was working for the last four months. In the USA, I genuinely felt I was doing my best workouts. My speed and endurance were good. In no Diamond League I competed in this year, did I feel I had no chance of a medal. I got everything I wanted when it came to training. It could be luck or something inside me. Last year, too, I couldn’t do well. I thought I would remove that (feeling) this year,” he said.
Eventually, the hurt of this result will fade. The pain will give way to learning. For now, he doesn’t want to think about that. “Every race you learn a lot, but, now, I feel if I work so hard and don’t get it, I feel like leaving this field. You work day and night for this,” he said, turning away, rubbing his eyes and continuing his lonely trudge away from the stadium.
NO JOY FOR RACEWALKERS
Sable’s disappointing result was emblematic of Indian struggles on the opening session of the first day of the campaign at the championships. India’s athletes fell short of their season’s best in the first medal event of the competition, the 20km race walk. Vikash Singh, who had a season’s best of 1:20.05, finished 27th with a time of 1:21.58. Paramjeet Singh, who came in with a best of 1:20.08, clocked 1:24.02 to take 35th place, while Akashdeep Singh was more than 10 minutes off his best (1.19.55) and finished with a time of 1:31.12.
SHAILI BELOW HER BEST
Long jumper Shaili Singh also fell short of her best. The 19-year-old came into the long jump competition with a season’s best of 6.76m, but managed a best of 6.40m on Saturday, and finished in 24th place. The result was disappointing since the final qualifying spot went at 6.61m, a distance Shaili had cleared twice this season.
- Manchester United vs Manchester City Live Score, Premier League 2023: MUN 0 - 0 MCI; Haaland goes close to opener
- Indian sports news wrap, October 29
- India vs England LIVE score, World Cup 2023: ENG 104/8 (32 overs); Jadeja gets Woakes, Kuldeep removes Livingstone
- Muralitharan in awe of Afghanistan; ‘surprised’ by Netherlands’ performance in World Cup
- ICC World Cup 2023: The Netherlands and the notes that came out Vice Captain O’Dowd’s pocket