With 30m to go in the 5000m on Tuesday, Parul Chowdhury has already run 7970m in 24 hours, including the 3000m steeplechase yesterday. Ririka Hironaka from Japan was a few meters ahead of him. A lesser athlete may fade.
But, he got a second wind as lactic acid started seeping into his legs. And as Hironaka looked to the right, Parul overtook him from l
eft all the Japanese saw was a blur of blue on the inner track. The looks on the faces of the two athletes told the story: utter disbelief on the hero’s face, sheer joy on Parul as she claimed the gold.
What makes it even more special is that this is Parul’s second medal of the Games: she won silver in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase on Tuesday, finishing second to the world champion. And the steeplechase is a demanding race: 28 obstacles and seven water obstacles.
Not only that, she became the first athlete in Asian Games history to win medals in women’s steeplechase and 5000m. She is also the first Indian woman to win 5,000m gold at the Asian Games.
When the Asian Games schedule was drawn up, Paul knew the kind of conditioning he needed to compete in both events. Training with his steeplechase counterpart Avinash Sable, he prepared himself to handle the rigors of two back-to-back races.
It was something that both worried him and excited him. The prospect of an Asian Games double medalist bit his lip.
“Everyone will know me if I win two medals at the Asian Games. That’s my main goal: I’m competing in two events, so I can get medals in both,” he told ESPN a week before the Games.
“It’s important for me to get a medal in both events because then there will be someone for the juniors. [Singh] Didi and Lalita [Babar] Didi was there when I was a junior and now I want to set an example like her. I want juniors to look at me and say ‘I want to be like Parul’.”
He has done his bit to set the bar. This season he won gold in the 3000m steeplechase and silver in the 5,000m at the Asian Athletics Championships. A month later, he ran a huge personal best at the World Championships and finished 11th. He lowered his steeplechase personal best by 23 seconds and his 5,000m personal best by 29 seconds. Both are, you guessed it by now, national records.
Off the field, she has another ambition: to silence all the naysayers back home in Meerut who would tell her “girls shouldn’t wear shorts and compete in sports.” “It happens in every village. They comment when a girl runs in shorts. Unfortunately, it’s so common that it’s considered normal. If not for athletics, I love you so much Shaadi Bhager Ho Jaati (laughs) [if I was staying in my village I would have been married]. That’s how it works in the village.”
“Before, they would say get married at 23 or 24. But now they say you’re running very well, take care of that and we’ll see about marriage later.”