Lakshmanan: ‘I lack exposure’

“Generally, everyone runs for medals and not for the timings. For me, medals are secondary; the timing is paramount,” says Govindan Lakshmanan.

A jubilant Govindan Lakshmanan after winning the men’s 5000m gold in the Asian Athletics Championship in Bhubaneswar in July this year.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

It’s not yet 9.30 p.m., but Govindan Lakshmanan has hit the bed. He is curled up inside his blanket in his room at the Madras Regimental Centre in Wellington, Nilgiris.

“That’s my routine; I wake up at 4.30 a.m. and rush to the ground as soon as possible,” says the 27-year-old Asian champion in 5000 and 10,000 metres. A Naib Subedar in the Indian Army, he comes from a very humble background.

In the World Championship in London in August, Lakshmanan finished 13th in the 5000m heats and 31st overall. Though he achieved a personal best time of 13:35.69s, he couldn’t qualify for the final round of the race. Incidentally, no other Indian athlete could achieve a personal best in London.

In a chat with Sportstar, Lakshmanan speaks about his tough childhood, training with his first coach S. Loganathan — whom he calls appa (father) — and India coach Surendra, among other things.

Excerpts:

You achieved a personal best (in 5000m) in the World Championship in London. It was raining then. How difficult was running the race?

Answer: (It was) a tough fight. My aim was to break the national record (set by Bahadur Prasad). I couldn’t do it, but I am keen to do it in the near future. After winning a gold medal in the Open Nationals in 2013, I have been winning virtually every big National event. Since then, one of my goals has been to break the National record.

Do you think you have had enough exposure at the international level?

All I need is (more) exposure. In India, I am outstanding, so people follow me, but no one can improve his timings by just competing here. You have to run with 2-3 people (to improve). Generally, everyone runs for medals and not for the timings. I am not saying that there aren’t good athletes — there are good ones, but most of them run for medals. All they need is medals. For me, medals are secondary; the timing is paramount. My performance in the 5000m and 10,000m in India is not up to the mark. With more exposure I am sure to do better. My drawback is that I lack exposure. The world champion in 5000m and 10,000m, Mo Farah, is doing well because others push him. Otherwise, he cannot do it. My worry is that I couldn’t break the National record despite being India No.1. I am sad that I was not able to reach the final (5000m) in the World Championship.

Govindan Lakshmanan completes a golden double in the Asian Championship by winning the 10,000m.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

You didn’t qualify for the 10,000m at the World Championship? Was that a disappointment?

For the 10,000m, I didn’t have the mind. My main event is the 5000m. Even in that event, there was a bit of stress, as we had to travel. We practised well before the Asian Championship. And then there was the Inter-State in Guntur, which I was not keen on taking part but was asked to. Then we went to Ooty, and to Delhi for the visa, which was a bit delayed.

While the entire Indian contingent left for London, I went alone and reached there three days later. After the Asian Championship, we had 25 days, and had I trained better I would have reached the final and perhaps won a medal.

How was the experience of running with Mo Farah in the World Championship in London?

Though I love Farah, my favourite long distance runner is (Kenenisa) Bekele, the multiple Olympic and World Championship gold medal winner in 5000m and 10,000m. I adore him. From 2010, my aim was to run like him. My friends used to call me ‘Indian Bekele’. Standing next to Farah and seeing him (at the World Championship) warm-up was great.

Did you talk to him?

I shook hands with him after running. I am not very proficient in English. I just said ‘Hi’.

What do you think are your chances in the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games?

My chances are bright in the 2018 Asian Games. The Commonwealth Games is tough, as the Kenyans will be running there.

Only one Indian (Davinder Singh in javelin) qualified for the final in the London World Championship. How do you assess India’s performance in the meet?

I am happy for him (Davinder Singh). In India, a lot of things have to improve in all disciplines, only then we can qualify. Take China for example, if a Chinese wins a medal, the athlete concerned is taken care of. All they have to do is run. Here, they make an athlete run from pillar to post for reasons better left unexplained.

The facilities here are okay, no problem there. But our travel is a problem. For example, if we are to leave for a big event, we arrive at the venue four days earlier and idle away our time. Ideally, you should reach the venue on the day the meet begins and leave the same day it ends.

Can you tell us about the coaching styles of S. Loganathan and Surendra (current India coach)?

Loganathan is my appa (Lakshmanan’s father died when he was very young), whereas Surendra is my coach. Surendra has been training me from 2012. I was Surendra’s first trainee after he had finished his coaching course at the National Institute of Sports. In the 2012 Open Nationals, I didn’t win any medal. In 2013, my good run started. I improved from thereon, winning in all the events I took part in.

I didn’t know what sports was until I went to appa. I joined him when I was 14 years old. Since then I stayed at his home in Pudukottai. That’s why I call him appa.

My two brothers and two sisters were with my mother, and I came to appa’s house. My family was struggling. I stayed in appa’s house — I still stay here whenever I visit Pudukottai.

Appa is an experienced coach. He has produced a lot of athletes. With appa, I did a lot of strength-building exercises. He made me strong and I further improved with Surendra. From late 2006 to 2010, I was with appa. During that time, I competed in the Junior Nationals where I used to finish second or third — but never first. It was a big achievement then. Winning a medal was rare. Going to the Nationals itself was great.

Surendra taught me Hindi. In my group, everyone knows Hindi. I came to him in 2012. I joined the Indian Army in 2010, and I was posted at the MRC in Wellington.

About my workout, appa would say, ‘Whatever workload I give him, Lakshmanan will not skip his workout.’ He had great faith in me, and that continues to this day.

Your final burst in the 5000m at the Asian Championship in Bhubaneswar has gone viral on the social media...

I did a lot of hard work. I was in good spirits. In practice, I was running well. In the last 400-500m, I was quick. I didn’t hurry up, as my coach told me not to. He advised me to pick up speed in the last 120-150m. The race was getting slower, so in the last 300m I opened up.

You had a very difficult childhood...

I struggled a lot, but appa used to tell me ‘Only if you struggle you can reach the top.’

Do you have friends?

My sister Suriya (Loganathan’s daughter) is my best friend. I like her and she helps me. She is a plus point for me. I discuss so many things with her.

What are your hobbies?

I listen to Tamil and Hindi songs — mostly melodies. On a lean day, I seldom venture out of my room.