METRO PLUS

A winner who takes it all

THE NATIONAL crown rests nicely on Sneha Shampur. The petite lass took to the sport of Triathlon like the proverbial "fish to water" as a 12-year-old and since then has made every post a winning one.

Sneha, soon turning 18, and into a decisive phase in life (currently appearing for her Second P.U. examination), touched her high when she claimed the gold in the gruelling event at the National Games in Hyderabad, in the women's section, in an impressive 2 hrs 28:00.0 seconds effort that won her instant acclaim.

Recognition and support came to Sneha in good measure. Be it at the School (Baldwin's), and later, at the junior- collegiate level, at the Sri Bhagwan Mahaveer Jain College, the management and students lauded her efforts.

But the weak and sick child that she was, Sneha's sporting venture was more incidental. Sister Sanjitha, now a final year student of medicine, was an ace swimmer with a plethora of State and National titles in the backstroke event, and even represented the country in the Asian Championship at Seoul in 1996, and understandably inspired Sneha. It was the Basavanagudi Aquatic Centre (BAC) that beckoned Sneha as a six-year-old. Running was Sneha's forte, but then with the accomplishments of her sister to egg her on, took up swimming in right ernest.

A natural talent, Sneha's exploits in the pool made one take notice, and Pradeep Kumar, the accomplished National coach at the BAC took that extra interest in his prodigy. And the results soon followed. That Sneha had an affinity towards athletics only helped her in the transition towards the multi-event and the talented girl struck gold in her very first attempt.

A winner who takes it all

"It was in the State sub-junior Triathlon Championship selection trials that I took the first step and the gold proved the ideal boost," recalls Sneha. Endurance was Sneha's strength, and the 500m swim, followed by the six kms of cycling and two kms of run, was a test of skill and stamina, and young Sneha took it in her stride with aplomb.

From the State ranks to the National was a graduation that was both smooth and successful. The seventh National Sub junior and Junior Triathlon championship at Secunderabad in 1997 turned out to be the ideal launching pad and Sneha's time of 32:6.0 seconds for the distance catapulted her into top reckoning.

In the following years, with the Triathlon Federation pinning the event in Chennai, Sneha was finally running against her own time, for the podium finish was a foregone conclusion. And the fast, improving lass did show her class. While the Nationals was not held in 2000, the following year at Pune saw Sneha making waves. Till then, if cycling was the weak link in Sneha, well wishers and family friends chipped in to get her a Italian-make cycle, "Pinarello", to effectively erase the fallacy. Sneha, since, has admirably covered the weak spot and today boasts of impressive timings in cycling too.

"My father (Vijayakumar), a businessman, is my cycling coach and took that much extra effort to ensure I rectified my flaws, while my mother and my sisters have been my greatest motivators," says Sneha. And the family coyly laud in the youngster's achievements. Third time at Chennai, however, turned sour for Sneha. In the last Nationals, the heat and extra effort put in by Sneha during the national camp for the International Satellite Meet took its toll as she failed to complete the event for the first time. "Despite high temperature, I started off, but after the first two events, I had to give up. I rushed back to Bangalore and was diagonised with Typhoid," laments Sneha, of her setback. The high point besides the National Games triumph at Hyderabad was her impressive timing at the Asian Championship at Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia. Finishing fourth among over 90 participants from 25 countries was an achievement anybody would be proud off, and coming off in the Elite Women's Junior category was an icing. "The timing of 2 hrs 26:48.0 seconds in itself was impressive, but the biggest satisfaction was that all the three who finished ahead of me were Japanese. I was the best among the rest," claimed Sneha, in all her childish enthusiasm. With an international exposure under her belt, Sneha was sent to the Asian Cup series in Xuzhou (China) in the same year and despite an improved timing, Sneha could muster only a 10th place finish.

A winner who takes it all

One who does not sit on her laurels, Sneha has her sights set on the Asian championship to be held in Vizag in October this year. "Being held in our country, I want to make a mark in the championship," remarked Sneha who is eager to brush out the lethargy that has been forced on to her due to the ongoing board exams and get back to the tracks that means a lot more to her. She is confident and eagern to carve a niche for herself and the country. "There is a lot of expectation and I for one will go out to fulfil it," said Sneha, who is highly indebted to the inspiration and support extended by Rekha (aunty) Ramachandran. "She has been my biggest supporter and has spared no efforts to boost my spirits. The Federation too has come out in a big way to help me."

But it was coach Pradeep Kumar who summed it up best: "She is an amazing talent with the potential to be the best and a hard worker. But with the break now (for her examinations), the conditioning is lax and in a event like triathlon, wherein the competition itself takes over two hours, practice is longer. But she can do it."

We all wish Sneha does it.

AVINASH NAIR