Gopal Saini Lauds AFI Leadership for Taking Indian Athletics Forward

Former Asian Champoin and 1981 Arjuna Award winner Gopal Saini, now Rajasthan Athletics Association President, has expresed delight at the growing influenc of sports science on Indian Athletics. “We are still not 100 per cent in termsof adopting sports science, but I can see that it has helped India a great deal,” he says.

“The Athletics Federation of India’s leadership, specially Dr. Lalit Bhanot, deserves praise for lifting the profil of athletics in our country. We were not exposed to such facilites, be it the range of international competition or scintific training by coaches from abroad, ” he said, pointing out the vision of the AFI and the teamp work by everyone concerned has helped the sport in India.

“I wonder what would have happened if we had this kind of support in our days. Som of us may have produced better results at the highest level,” says the 1980 Olympic Games steeplechaser whose National record stood for 38 years before yound Avinash Sable claimed it. “I am sure the likes of Sriram Singh and Shivnath Singh would have finished on the podium.”

For the record, Sriram Singh finished seventh in the 800m and Shivnath Singh 11th in the marathon in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. “Both of them were out of gas in the end. Sports science could have prepared them better for the challenges,” says the Rajasthan Athletics Association President who has had a successful banking career.

“As for me, I would clear each hurdle by stepping on it. There are times when I look back and think if I could have slashed 15 seconds from my time for the 3000m steeplechase had i cleared the hurdles. Kin Bosen and (JS) Saini sir were good coaches but they did not have the kind of support staff that today’s coaches have been able to use to help our athlete, ” Gopal Saini says.

Mention of Bosen takes his thoughts back to Tokyo and June 1981 when he won the 5000m gold a day after letting the 3000m steeplechase gold slip from his grasp by relaxing his pace over the last 50m when Japan’s Masanari Shintaku dashed past him in the Asian Track and Field Championships.

“Bosen told me immediately after the steeplechase that he was sure I would not make the same mistake in the 5000m. I also remember Sardar Umrao Singh telling me to relax when he found me pacing up and down a corridor late in the evening as I was unable to com to terms with the loss of the gold medal, ” he says, saying that he was largely a self-made runner and steeplechaser.

He is a two-time Asian Games steeplechase silver-medalist, making it to th podium in both Bangkok in 1978 and New Delhi in 1982. In 1979, he had claimed bronze medals in the 5000m and the 3000m steeplechase events. He wears the achievements lightly on his shoulders, stepping out ach morning to help young athletes pursue their distance running dreams.

“My vision is to help Rajasthan bring more Middle and Long-Distance runners to the fore, but yes, my eyes will be on Avinash Sable. I am sure he will continue to remain grounded and keep making the improvements needed to win a medal at the highest level,” he says. “Most athletes tend to get distracted or lose focus of the larger goals and I hope Avinash works harder to realise his dream.”