Athletics

Gomathi Marimuthu prepares for her next challenge: Tokyo

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The athlete who is back home in Mudikandam village, talks to MetroPlus on what it takes to become a track champion

As she patiently signs autographs at her home in Mudikandam village in Tiruchi (approximately 347 kilometres from Chennai), Gomathi Marimuthu shows a glimpse of her unflagging spirit; it helped her win the women’s 800 metres gold at the 23rd Asian Athletics Championship (AAC) in Doha, Qatar.

Despite a hectic schedule of felicitation events and an unrelentingly hot day, the ‘Thanga Mangai’ or Golden Girl (as billboards outside Mudikandam call her) is clearly in it for the long run.

On April 22, Gomathi opened India’s tally of gold medals by racing past Wang Chunyu of China and Kazhakhstan’s Margarita Mukasheva in the final lap to emerge the winner with a personal best timing of 2:02:70. It was a huge improvement from her previous record at the AAC, where she finished 7th in 2013 and 4th in 2015.

Currently working in the business division of the Income Tax Department in Bengaluru, Gomathi’s achievement at 30 is both impressive, and inspiring.

She has sprung back from a groin injury that robbed her of nearly two years on the track. There is also the challenge of age. “I was dejected when people said that I was too old for competitive athletics,” says Gomathi. “But age doesn’t really matter if you are determined and work hard. After all, Mukasheva, who won the bronze in my event, is 33. If she can do it, why not I?”

Pillars to lean on

Gomathi’s victory may have triggered a wave of adulation in Tamil Nadu, but as she has often mentioned, none of it would have been possible without the support of well-wishers, particularly her father Marimuthu, a farmer. “Appa would drive me to the bus-stop on the Tiruchi-Madurai National Highway on his two-wheeler, so that I could catch the 4.45 am bus to Chathiram bus stand in Tiruchi. It was a daily 40-kilometre commute (both ways) so that I could train under coach Rajamani at St Joseph’s College, Tiruchi,” she says.

Gomathi Marimuthu at her village in Tiruchi

Gomathi Marimuthu at her village in Tiruchi   | Photo Credit: M SRINATH

Though her talent was spotted while she was a student of St Thomas Higher Secondary School, Nazareth (in Kunnathur, Pudukottai district), Gomathi took up athletics seriously only at the age of 20. From end-2008, when she was a final year student of Economics at Holy Cross College, Tiruchi, she participated in several national events under Rajamani’s guidance.

“I didn’t know the importance of a good diet when I began training. In fact, a gentleman from Tiruchi who used to watch me on the grounds decided to sponsor a weekly portion of fruits and nuts so that I could build my stamina,” she recalls.

The way forward

At present, Gomathi stays in a hostel in Bengaluru, and juggles her professional duties with training. “I am at the ground by 6 am, and if it’s a working day, I finish by 8 am. Otherwise I extend my practice to 9.30 am,” she says. “The commuting to and from practice and work is the most time-consuming part of my day.”

The demise of her father in 2016, coupled with her injury nearly forced Gomathi to quit athletics. “After my father, it was my friend Francis Mary, a policewoman and fellow sportsperson who helped me stay focussed. She motivated and counselled me whenever I was depressed and kept telling me to never give up, no matter how hard life was.”

That focus will again be required as Gomathi prepares for the 2020 Summer Olympics to be held in Tokyo. “Sponsors have been more forthcoming after my victory in Doha, so I am confident about aiming for international success,” she says.

Right now, she says she hopes to inspire women to take physical exercise more seriously. “If not for competitions, sports helps one to stay healthy, and also improves how the brain functions,” she says. “Parents unfortunately tend to think that allowing their children to play will have a negative effect on their studies.”

Gomathi has high hopes for the next generation of athletes in India. “I am very happy to have succeeded at the international level. I hope more women athletes will make Tamil Nadu and our country proud,” she says.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 4:51:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/athletics/gomathi-marimuthu-prepares-for-her-next-challenge-tokyo/article26992463.ece

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