When Avinash Sable, Eldhose Paul and Abdulla Aboobacker departed for the twin World Athletics Championship - Commonwealth Games events, each went with a different target and a different dream.
For triple-jumpers Eldhose and Aboobacker, it was all about getting a personal best at what would be their debuts on the international stage. For Sable, who eats 3000m steeplechase national records for breakfast, it was all about winning a medal.
On Tuesday, they returned to the Sports Authority of India South Centre here – their training base in India – to a rousing welcome, after having achieved all they had hoped for and more.
“Goal was to do my personal best,” said Eldhose. “If we do our personal best at such a big event, it gives you a very different feeling. There were no expectations of a medal. That in fact brings pressure. We did our personal bests and we got the medal.”
That Eldhose and Aboobacker didn’t have their National coach M. Harikrishnan by their side was tough. Yet, they made do with online coaching by Harikrishnan, often in the wee hours in India, and broke through the coveted 17m barrier to secure the nation’s first-ever 1-2 finish in athletics at the CWG.
“Eldhose was ninth at the Worlds and I was 19th… in India we were top, but there we were 19th!” said Aboobacker. “It was my first international competition. I was all alone in Chula Vista (California). After Worlds I was very depressed. I had tried my best, but I didn’t have the result to show. But my coach encouraged me throughout and we both leapt 17m.”
The belief that carried them owes in larger measure to what Neeraj Chopra did at the Tokyo Games in 2020 – winning India’s maiden track and field gold. “The thinking has changed,” said Sable, who became the first non-Kenyan to win a steeplechase medal at the CWG in 24 years.
“Earlier, it used to be like: ‘we want to be known as Olympians’. Now we want to be known as Olympic medallists. After the disappointment at Worlds (11th place), I told myself that I had 20 days to prove my worth.
“There is a general thinking that against such tough competition, the best you can do is a personal best. But my target was to beat the Kenyans and win a medal.
“The Kenyans generally bunch together, at the front, and they end up sweeping the medals. But there was a point during the race when they turned back and looked at me. That was it. I believed I could win.”