We are still there, don’t count us out, says Srabani Nanda

Despite many top athletes missing, India can still make it work in the sprint relay at the Asian level, feels the Olympian

May 18, 2023 10:14 pm | Updated 10:14 pm IST - RANCHI:

Srabani Nanda, who sprinted to the gold medal at the Federation Cup with a season-best 11.57s in her first meet in India this year, wants to concentrate on that event this season.

Srabani Nanda, who sprinted to the gold medal at the Federation Cup with a season-best 11.57s in her first meet in India this year, wants to concentrate on that event this season. | Photo Credit: Biswaranjan Rout

Two years ago, the Indian women’s 4x100m relay team was very confident of making it to the Tokyo Olympics. That did not happen and the last year has seen one setback after another, especially on the doping front.

Olympian S. Dhanalakshmi, and later M.V. Jilna, who were set to go to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last year as part of the sprint relay team, failed dope tests and in December, National 100m record-holder Dutee Chand — a former World University Games champion and Asian Games silver medallist — also fell into the doping net.

And, according to National coach Radhakrishnan Nair, top sprinter Hima Das suffered an injury just before the April 15 Indian Grand Prix in Bengaluru forcing her to miss the Federation Cup.

The Asian Championships (Thailand, July), World Championships (Hungary, August) and the Asian Games (China, September) are lined up this year but now it looks like the sprint relay team has virtually collapsed.

Fastest this year

“I can’t say it’s no longer there. You still have Jyothi Yarraji, Archana (Suseendran) and myself. We need just need one more, one more girl from here. So, for the Asians, we are still there,” said Srabani Nanda, the country’s fastest woman this year after winning the 100m gold at the Federation Cup in a season-best 11.57s on Tuesday, in a chat with The Hindu here.

Srabani, fifth in India’s all-time 100m list with her 11.36s which came in Florida in June 2021, has been training in Jamaica under Stephen Francis who had coached Olympic and World champions Elaine Thompson-Herah and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce earlier.

Bring them together

So, she is not a National camper and the Athletics Federation of India has a policy that it will not include non-campers in its relay teams for major championships.

“I don’t know who is in the camp and who is not. If athletes are out of camp, you have to bring them together and make a team. If the federation brings us together, it will work,” said the Olympian, a former Asian 200m bronze medallist, who was in the sprint relay team that finished fifth in the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

“India is one of the best in Asia, so we cannot feel like we are not there. Athletes are still training, putting their work so you cannot put that mindset into them right now. Because, this is the start of the season.”

Can’t control people

What’s running in her mind about the athletes who have fallen into the dope net?

“As an individual athlete in an individual sport, I don’t think about other athletes. I can’t control people, I would just say disappointing and hopefully it should not happen,” said Srabani, who ran in five Jamaican meets this year before opening her Indian season in Ranchi.

“I don’t really like this, what young people are into. Hopefully, I can change it doing everything clean.”

“And more than that, they should know the impact. By doping, you spoil your body, your life and your achievements.”

While the 200m took the 32-year-old from Odisha to the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, she appears to be focusing more on the 100m this year. And she’s got a big goal in the shorter sprint.

“I go on and off. I haven’t done much 200 this season because that’s the plan of training. I did a lot of 100m but I went to the Olympics in the 200 so I feel it’s my pet event but that’s not always the case. When I am fit, I go for both.

“I always want to run fast, do a sub-11 (National record, Dutee Chand’s 11.17s). That was always my goal since I went to Jamaica. So hopefully, with God’s grace it will come.”

Jamaican lessons

Her four years in Kingston offered her plenty of lessons.

“It’s a big experience for us Indian athletes to be with those people (Jamaicans), they are the world’s best. I was like a queen in a pond (back home), then I met the sharks in the ocean,” said Srabani who is supported in a big way by the Odisha Government.

But initially, progress was very slow.

“For the first few years, I didn’t improve much because it was completely different. Now, I’m feeling better technically.”

Tough life

The sudden advancing of major National championships like the Federation Cup and the Inter-State meet, which are selection meets for the Asian and World Championships and the Asian Games, has upset athletes’ plans in a big way. The problem is bigger for athletes like Srabani who are training abroad.

“The first thing is the sudden jump in the cost of air tickets and then we have to change plans and rush into the season. I don’t know how everybody is managing,” she said.

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