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Marathoner Unlimited

Capt Seshadri shares the story of Paula Jean Radcliffe, marathon runner extraordinaire, who has become the undisputed queen of long distance running. 

Three-time winner of the London Marathon. Three-time New York Marathon champion. Topper at the Chicago Marathon. Current world record holder, with a time that has not been broken in 15 years.  And a world record in the 10k with an astonishing time of 30:21!

Paula Jane Radcliffe, MBE, is an extraordinary Englishwoman, who overcame bouts of asthma and anaemia, to become the undisputed queen of the ultimate long distance run. Born on December 17, 1973 at Cheshire, Paula began her foray into running from the tender age of seven, alongside her father while he trained for his marathons, first as a competitive athlete and later as a hobby, to lose weight after giving up smoking.

Training under Alex Stanton, an experienced and talented coach, Paula, despite her frail frame and relatively small size, first tasted victory as a junior in 1992 at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Boston, despite suffering from what was diagnosed as exercise induced asthma coupled with a history of anaemia. Competing in the Great North Cross Run, Paula defeated the defending champion by 25 seconds, finishing the race in 8 inches of snow.

In 2002, she stepped up her sights to the full marathon, winning the London Marathon on debut, with a record time of 2:18:55. The same year, she literally sprinted across the finish line in 2:17:18 in Chicago, setting a new world record and breaking the existing one by over 90 seconds. Her still standing world record of 2:15:25 was set amidst controversy at the London Marathon of April 2003, the debate being fuelled by the fact that she used two men runners to assist in pacing her. The record was rescinded, but better sense prevailed and the organisers soon had it reinstated.

In London in 2005, Paula was afflicted with a bad stomach cramp, while halfway through the course. In pain and a with horrifying need for a break, Paula had her most embarrassing moment when she had to relieve herself by the roadside, without shelter from the crowd or the cameras.  The iron hearted lady went on to win the event in a world beating time of 2:17:42. A red faced Paula later apologised, but the sporting media went on to describe it as the top running moment in history.

Paula Radcliffe was an unconventional runner who never set limits or timings for the stages of the run. Her mantra was: Run your best as long as you feel good. Why set limits? Why slow down when you are running your best? Probably, the most important lesson marathoners could learn from her is to discard their timing devices and run their hearts out sans stages or limits.

In 2010, she was inducted into the England Athletics Hall of Fame, an honour richly deserved. Paula Radcliffe ended her competitive running career with the London Marathon in 2015, as an athlete supreme, a runner without limits.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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The Queen of Indian Track and Field

The legendary runner, P T Usha, loved by millions and an inspiration to all athletes in the 80s, was known as the Payyoli Express. Capt Seshadri profiles the prolific runner. 

Kerala. God’s own country. A land of lush green forests, sprawling backwaters and a pristine coastline. Somewhere along the Malabar Coast of Kerala lies the quiet town of Payyoli. And through this town runs an express. An express that does not run on steam, diesel or electricity. An express, however, that has won 101 gold medals internationally.

Pilavullakandi Thekkeparambil Usha better known to India and the world simply as PT Usha, hailing from this little town, earned the title of the “Payyoli Express” through her immortal achievements on the athletics track. Such is her fame and popularity that not just streets but even babies are named after her.

The early 1980s were not a particularly conducive period for Indian athletes, far less a woman. International training facilities and experienced coaches were virtually unknown. Exposure to the world arena was very limited and there was a complete lack of scientific management. In this scenario, Usha started running at the age of 13. As early as in Class VII, she was so quick that she would beat the then District champion. During her training sessions, she would request male athletes to pace for her; however, they never asked her to pace for them, afraid that they might not be able to match her!

Motivation and training, both of which were largely self-developed, were crucial to success even at the National level. There was abundance of talent but no means to channelise it, recalls Usha. To quote her: ““After many years of experience in athletics, I am convinced that what we lack in India is not talent, but the basic, modern and scientific facilities. If we train our young Indian sports talents, nothing, not even Olympic medals, is unachievable.” She dedicates her achievements to her coach and mentor, OM Nambiar who, in 1985, won the Dronacharya Award for his contribution to Indian athletics.

Dwelling on the past, she recalls how she could have made it big in the Los Angeles Olympics if only she had had the opportunity to participate and benefit from more international exposure. Nevertheless, she became the first ever Indian woman to reach an Olympics finals, winning the 400 metres hurdles semi-finals in 1984. She rues the manner in which she lost the bronze by 1/100th of a second, simply because she didn’t lunge at the tape. She was not used to it, simply because she would usually win most of her races by margins of 10 m.

To crown a glorious athletic career, in 2002, after her retirement from active competition, PT Usha strongly felt the need to take sport to the grassroots level and train and share her experience with budding young talent. Hence was conceived the ‘Usha School of Athletics’ focussed on girl athletes who, she firmly believes, have the potential to bring home Olympic golds. Her school has 18 girls, mostly from underprivileged backgrounds, living on the residential campus, schooling during the day and training for over 5 hours every day, in the mornings and evenings. Funding comes purely from individual donations, but that does not deter Usha from pursuing her ambition and goals.

At a time when India was virtually unknown in international athletics, the Payyoli Express stood out as a shining example of what determination and hard work could achieve against all odds. An icon and a living legend, PT Usha swept the 100, 200, and 400 metres, the 400 metres hurdles, and the 4 x 400 metres relay at the 1985 Asian Track and Field Championship in Indonesia, pushing India up from 14th to 4th place in the overall championship list. Usha was honoured the same year with the Padma Shree and Arjuna awards.

The Payyoli Express, who still jogs unfailingly every morning, expresses her anguish at the dropping fitness levels in kids. The best way to get them fit is to organise family games like football, basketball and running, she feels. Dwelling on the bad food habits of today’s children, she talks about how she used to eat large quantities of potatoes for her carb requirement. The how the food in LA during the 1984 Olympics was so bland that she carried a bottle of pickles to add to her food!

When she is not running or training her wards, Usha loves watching movies and to clean and cook. Quite natural to her roots, fish curry is her favourite food. Simplicity personified, humble and humane, PT Usha has etched a name in Indian athletics that will stay in memory for a long time to come.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams

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Jumping long, aiming high

Michael  Powell, is an Olympian who was a former track and field athlete, and is the holder of the long jump world record. Capt Seshadri profile the phenomenal athlete who was the a brand ambassador for the TSK25 Kolkata 2017

At 77 kilos, he was as light as a feather. He too could float like a butterfly, an attribute that belonged to another legend from his country, although of a different kind of sport.

This is the story of a world beating athlete who rediscovered himself. In April 2013, 17 years after retirement, he was invited to participate in a charity long jump event in Japan. Among the crowd was none other than his former foe, the legendary Carl Lewis. By then 35 kilos heavier than his normal weight, at a hefty 112 kg, and in no way fit to compete, he was disconsolate after faring badly against virtually unknown amateurs. Urged by one of his closest friends and former world triple jump record holder Willie Banks, to train back into shape, stunned by his own lack of fitness and now spurred into action, he returned to his home in California a completely changed man. A mere year and a half later, down to a trim 83 kg, he announced his ambitions of going for the World Masters long jump record. “Fat doesn’t fly and now I’m lighter it is about me getting that masters record,” says he. If he achieves this, he will be the only athlete to hold the World and Masters records in a single event.

This is the story of Mike Powell. The man who broke Bob Beamon’s ‘leap of the century’ by 5 cm, flying through the air to 8.95 m at the 1991 World Championships in Athletics in Tokyo, in the process, pushing ‘King’ Carl to second place. For his stupendous feat, he was rewarded with the James E. Sullivan Award and the BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year Award, the same year. In 1992, at Sestriere in Italy, he almost cleared 9m with a jump of 8.99 m, but the record did not stand as it was considered wind aided. However, as the years passed, he had to be satisfied with a silver in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the gold in 1993 and the bronze at the 1995 World Championships in Athletics.

Mike Powell was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but moved to study at Edgewood High School in West Covina, California. He went on to attend the University of California, Irvine and later transferred to the University of California at Los Angeles. He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Apart from his scholarly pursuits and his athletics career, his feat in basketball is a successful dunk from the free throw line in the 1992-93 Foot Locker Slam Fest! With music as his love and dancing being both his passion and a way of staying fit, he has even been a popular DJ!

Powell, who now coaches budding long jumpers at Academy of Speed in Rancho Cucamonga, California, is a brand ambassador for the TSK25 Kolkata 2017. He has very fond memories of India, the people, their enthusiasm and warmth, also recalling in lighter vein, the warmth of the weather.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams

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Bekele, Degitu win first international edition of TSK 25K

Multiple times world champion Kenenisa Bekele kept his reputation intact cantering past the finish line in the maiden appearance of TSK 25K in its international avatar with a timing of 1.13.48 , even as over 13700 participants took to the streets on a nippy winter morning.

In the Elite national section winner Avinash Sable set a course record of 1.15.17 breaking the previous course record set by G Lakshmanan who came third with a timing of 1.17.13 which is also better than his mark set last year. Kalidas Hirave came second with 1.16.18. Thus all three bettered last year’s record of 1.17.23.

The Ethiopian world champion earlier paced his race brilliantly staying in the mix till the 21st kilometer when he broke loose and by the time he was across the finish line his closest competitor was nowhere in sight.

The leading group went through the 7.5km checkpoint in a sluggish 24:24. Just before halfway, Bekele briefly went through a bad patch and drifted off the back of the leaders, with his compatriot Asefa Diro leading at 12km in 39:09 and Bekele seven seconds adrift in fifth place.

However, the multiple world champion and world record holder soon got back up with the group containing Diro, Eritrea’s Tsegay Tuemay, Tanzania’s Augustino Sulle and India’s Avinash Sable before surging away with just under seven kilometres to go. His move almost immediately splintered the leading group with nobody able to stay with him once he moved into a higher gear. Tuemay eventually crossed the finish line on Kolkata’s historic Red Road in second place in 1:14:21 with Sulle third in 1:14:41

Later Kenenisa said: “The race was very nice. The course is nice and flat all through. I have been training hard and the results showed. This was my first 25 K and it feels good to have won it. It was a tactical race and I paced myself depending on the kind of competition I faced.”

“The weather was good, though a little smokey in certain parts. But it was not difficult to manage. I had a great race and would like to come back here next year. Kolkata has been very warm and hospitable and I would like to laud Procam for organizing such a well managed race,” he continued.

The Ethiopian however wished he had a pacemaker to push down his time. “In a race like this you need a pacemaker, who sets you up for a fast finish. I was pushing myself, but that was not enough. I would have pushed my timing by 90 seconds at least had I a pacemaker,” Bekele rued.

Avinash Sable said: “I am concentrating for steeplechase. That is my event. The only reason I am running in the 25K is to increase my endurance. The fact that I have come first here goes to say that I am on the right track. My aim is the Commonwealth Games and a podium finish there in my pet event.”

In the elite women group the first place was taken by Ethiopian Degitu  Azimeraw with a timing of 1.26.01, followed by Kenyan Helah Kiprop with a timing of 1.26.04 and Tanzanian Failuna Matanga with 1.26.11.

In the Indian women’s L Surya won with 1.26.53 timing beating Sudha Singh’s course record of 1.27.31 . Manju Yadav came second at 1.32.51, while Jhuma Khatun came third with 1.32.58. All three ladies were from Railways.

The race was flagged off by Hon’ble Gobvernor of West Bengal Kesari Nath Tripathi, H H Shri Shri Ravishankar, General Abhay Krishna, GOC&C Eastern Command, Arup Biswas, Minister PWD and Sports, T V Narendran, MD Tata Steel.

Event Ambassador Sourav Ganguly and International Ambassador Mike Powell were at the starting line to encourage the runners. Later Ganguly said: “This is amazing to see the number of people come out and run in the morning. The world Champion running here and a world record holder long jumper watching the race makes TSK 25K really special.”

He exchanged a few words with Bekele once he crossed the finishing line breasting the tape held by the Prince of Calcutta and the man with a record that stands over quarter century Mike Powell.

Powell said: “I am thrilled to see so many people come out and run. And the standard of the elite field is also great. The race is competitive and fun to watch.”

Following are the final results:

Overall Athlete Men

Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) 1:13:48; Tsegay Tuemay (ERI) 1:14:29; Augustino Sulle (TAN) 1:14:41; Avinash Sable (IND) 1:15:17; Asefa Diro (KEN) 1:15:37.

Overall Athlete Women

Degitu Azimeraw (ETH) 1:26:01; Helah Kiprop(KEN)1:26:04; Failuna Matanga(TAN) 1:26:11; Dibabe Kuma (ETH) 1:26:28; L. Suriya (IND) 1:26:53.

Overall Indian Athlete Men

Avinash Sable (IND) 1:15:17; Kalidas Hirave (IND) 1:16:18; G Lakshmanan (IND) 1:17:13; Govind Singh (IND) 1:22:19; Mukesh Singh(IND) 1:22:21; Shander Singh(IND) 1:22:28.

Overall Indian Athlete Women

L. Suriya L (IND) 1:26:53; Manju Yadav (IND) 1:32:51; Juma Khatun (IND) 1:32:58; Monika Athare (IND) 1:34:30; Monika Raut (IND) 1:36:08; Jyoti Gawate (IND) 1:38:52.

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Meeting a Legend – Linford Christie

Sandilya Venkatesh caught up with legendary runner, Linford Christie in New Delhi and he can’t stop smiling. 

Linford Christie is as large a man in person as his name is in the world of athletics. When he walks into the room he casts a shadow befitting his 6ft 2 inch frame which even at 57 years is in excellent shape.  I found a fitting definition to describe why he is a considered legend on Wikipedia

He is the only British man to have won gold medals in the 100 metres at all four major competitions open to British athletes: the Olympic Games, the World Championships, the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games.
I got a chance to catch up with him at a small dinner organised on the sidelines of the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon 2017 which he attended as the PUMA Legends Brand ambassador. The first thing I spoke to him about was his disqualification in 1996 at the Atlanta Olympics, where he was a favourite to win and was to be his swan song. I did regret leading with that statement of course, but the incredibly composed Christie fielded it with a beaming grin and poise. He did regret that he could not run that race, but chalked it up to the travails of the job – “That’s the sport – it happens sometimes” he said with such comfort and ease that one would think that it didn’t matter.
Training to be Christie
Fortunately, I moved on to his training and nutrition. With 3 – 6 hours of training every day, his routine was a grueling schedule. So much so that he would want to give up the sport every time he completed a meet. But like all good sportsmen, he would get back to the sport to continue the good work or I wondered aloud if he was a masochist? He laughs it off with equal ease. Interestingly, his nutrition was not anything much different during training as it was off. He doesn’t touch alcohol as expected. But he also doesn’t touch red meat and actively dislikes beef steaks. His primary protein sources are chicken and fish.
He continues to be built like a body builder – in his active years he was considered one of the most muscular sprinters and an example of a power athlete. Even though he was in full sleeved shirts or sweat shirts through out the weekend, his biceps were clearly visible and the size of shot puts. To the question on current fitness and exercise routine, he talked about how he is completely injury and pain free and continues to lift weights like people half his age in the the gym. That wasn’t surprising at all!
The legend now
For now, he enjoys contributing to the sport in the form of coaching and training. When asked about the nature of the sport and how it has changed, he talked about how everything has become so scientific these days and how that has unfortunately led to a lack of longevity of athletes. Usain Bolt however was the exception but also someone who, because of his sheer dominance of the sport, simply suppressed everyone else. Even though sprinters like Asafa Powell, Tyson Gay or Justin Gatlin were all outstanding athletes, they were unable to shine due to Usain’s undisputed presence, he opined.
He now spends a lot of time with “Street Athletics“, a sports initiative to get under privileged children into sport. For someone who has achieved such great heights in his sport, he is incredibly humble and down to earth. Talking to him, gives you a sense that you could win the Olympic gold too – if that’s not inspiring, then what is?
If you want to read more about Christie’s achievements you can visit https://goo.gl/GJcKK2
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sandilya Venkatesh is the founder of Eventjini and the Executive Editor of Finisher Magazine who is always excited about running and making others run.

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