When S. Dhanalakshmi made her 400m debut at the Olympics trials in Patiala on Sunday, she felt good in the first 200m and thought the next half would go well too.
But in the last 100m, she realised how difficult it was to run the quartermile.
“After 300m, everything sort of switched off. I felt like I didn’t have any energy left. I’ve never run more than 300m before,” said the 23-year-old National 100m champion, who stunningly made the Indian 4x400m mixed relay team for the Tokyo Olympics after that run, in a chat with Sportstar from the Patiala National camp on Tuesday.
When Russian Galina Bukharina, the national coach for the quartermilers and relay teams, asked her to do the 400m trials, Dhanalakshmi was very excited with the new opportunity.
“Since my chances in the 100m and (4x100m) relay were over, I thought I’d have to wait another four years for the Olympics. Then our coach said, ‘I will give you another chance, you try to finish at least third in the trials, I will surely take you to the Olympics’,” said the Tamil Nadu sprinter from Tiruchi who shocked national record-holder Dutee Chand and Hima Das for the National 100m gold.
“I’ve never run the 400m before but I felt God had given me another chance and I must use it well. So, I prepared my mind for that.
“I think I was in the fourth spot in the last 100m but I gave it my all after that. In the last 50m, my mind was just saying, ‘Olympics, Olympics, Olympics’. It was a close finish and I pushed my head forward to take the third spot.
“Running the 400m and going to the Olympics…this is something unimaginable. How can I even dream such a thing.”
Stars not in form
With star quartermilers Jisna Mathew and V.K. Vismaya, not in their usual form as they were returning from injuries (the two finished behind Dhanalakshmi and did not make the Olympic team), and with the seasoned M.R. Poovamma leaving the national camp after suffering an injury, coach Bukharina was thrilled too.
“After the trials, she told me that I should concentrate on the 400m. She told me that when girls run the 400m for the first time, they usually clock something like 56 or 58s and I had clocked 54, so if train well, I would surely run in 52s,” said Dhanalakshmi who first came to the limelight with scorching runs in the 100 and 200m at the varsities Nationals at Moodbidri, near Mangalore, in November 2018.
The quartermile certainly appears sweeter than the 100m to the young girl.
“In 100, only if you are in 11s, it will take you places. In the 400m, you have the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and you have a better chance of winning medals in relays so I’m wondering whether I should shift to the 400m.
“If I train for the 400m alone, I am sure I can do 52 secs. It could change my life in a big way.”
At school, Dhanalakshmi was a decent sprinter.
“I started running in school (Abbot Marcel RC HSS, Tiruchi) and my PT master used to take me to the zonal and district meets. I used to do well there but in the State meets, I used to finish last or close to that without any proper training,” she said.
It was only when she reached college (SRC, Tiruchi) that she felt the need for systematic training. “So I joined Manikandan Arumugam’s group a few years ago. He used to train himself and also coach us.”
Dhanalakshmi’s life has now changed forever.