Friday, October 8, 2010

Young woman from Nashik brings home first individual track medal in 52 years

India’s first individual medal in 52 years in a running event at the Commonwealth Games was won today by a 25-year-old tribal woman who grew up running double the distance she covered in the 10,000-metre race — fetching water each time the river flowing through her village Savarpada, 90 km from Nashik in Maharashtra, dried up during summers.

Kavita Raut clocked 33 minutes and 5.28 seconds to win the bronze, the 10th athletics medal India has ever won at the Commonwealth Games. The last individual medal for a Commonwealth Games track event was Milkha Singh’s gold in 1958.

Expectedly, the Kenyans—Kwamboka Grace Momanyi and Chepkwemo Doris Changeywo—won the Gold and Silver. With 1,200 metres to go, Kavita found the energy in her legs and staying power to break from the rest and cross the finish line after the Kenyans. The home crowd roared and Kavita scampered around to find a Tri-colour for a victory lap.

“I wanted to improve my best timing at the Games but I couldn’t. But this Bronze has given me a lot of confidence. I can only get better from here. I want to thank all my coaches. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I did today,” Kavita said.

Her bronze-medal winning time paled in comparison to her personal best of 32:41.31 but Kavita was confident that she would bag the Gold and improve her performance at the Asian Games next month.

On Friday, her family in Savarpada village would have been happy that Kavita’s long-time coach Vijendra Singh was adamant that the teenager put her lung capacity to better use than running to fetch water.

It took Singh, who is with the Sports Authority of India, Nashik, three years to convince Kavita’s parents that she could become a famous runner and win the country medals. “Her parents wanted her to stay back in Savarpada, complete her basic education in a government school and help the family make both ends meet by working on the farm,” Singh said.

Singh spotted Kavita at an inter-school sports competition when she was 15. “She won the 1,500 and the 3,000 metres but was really raw. Years of running up to 18-20 kilometres everyday to fetch water during the summer months had given her a lot of stamina. She even had to walk five kilometres to her school. After I coached her for three months, she won an under-16 gold. From then on she has only gone from strength to strength,” said Singh who couldn’t watch the 10,000-metre final live on television because the channel he was tuned into was telecasting boxing. And he suspects Kavita’s family, too, missed the final. “I had put up posters in Nashik to alert people that Kavita was running tonight. I doubt anyone saw it because we could only watch boxing here.”

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