There was this video of the 4×400 m women’s relay at the Commonwealth Games that one of my friend’s had posted on facebook recently with a tagline that said – Watch this over, over, over, over and over again. By then I had read in the newspaper that we had grabbed the gold in the Women’s 4×400 m relay at CWG. Little did I know how exciting and nail – biting it was. I clicked on the video and what I witnessed was sensational.
The commentary was on even before the relay began. There was something else that was conflicting with the commentary. That something else was the sound of the crowd. A large crowd had gathered there at the stadium to cheer this team of 4 girls who were competing with nations that had made their mark in athletics.
The relay began. The commentator was then focussing on the good starts that Australia and England had in the relay. Towards the end of the first leg, I could hear him say that India was coming in third with Manjeet Kaur. At this point, I lost track of what he was saying. The focus was primarily on 2 things – the athletes and the crowd’s overwhelming response to India’s progress every single second. As the second leg began, Nigeria took lead. Well, the lead was indeed a lead. India was trailing second. But the crowd never lost hope. The commentator was excited as well, as this was a lead that was phenomenal. Well, at that point I was just happy that India was second. Even this was big enough for me. As the commentator was questioning, if India would take home a medal in this track event, I could see the Indian third leg pick up pace. Well, he noticed too and I heard a name for the first time – Akkunji.
The name repeated time and again. She was almost giving way to England when the crowd began to cheer louder. And that was it. The next bit of commentary I heard was – ‘Here comes India.. Here come Akkunji’. That was the moment when she crossed the Nigerian athlete and got India the much awaited lead. India had its lead in the last leg of the relay. And in the anchor leg India had a tough competition with Nigeria being a little behind. But the anchor leg managed to finish it amidst all the support the crowd was giving and yes, India had bagged it’s gold!!
Well, this didn’t stop me. A friend of mine and me later happened to watch it again and again and again – umpteen number of times. I later read that Akkunji was from the same state as mine. I googled for her name. And, yes, I was right. Ashwini C Akkunji in fact hailed from the same taluk as I do – Kundapur. I began to read up on Akkunji, her history and what she had to tell about the games. It was an awakening for me. From running on uneven pastures to mastering the art of winning on synthetic track, she had done in all. I was always under the opinion that the country did not really support Athletics well. But her comments, quotes and opinions made me change my point of view. Once her talent was brought to light, Ashwini was trained at the Tata Athletics Academy in Jamshedpur under a scholarship-based training programme. India had won Silver at Melbourne and since then the team apparently had been practicing hard to outdo themselves. The Athletics Federation of India sent the team twice to Ukraine for training before the Commonwealth Games.
What I did not know was that the coach, R S Sidhu had chalked out a brilliant strategy for his team. 2 key team members were rested in the semi final run. Manjeet Kaur (the first leg) and Mandeep (the anchor leg) were known for their better timing in completing the run. They were allowed to rest in the semis. The final saw, these 3 and Sini Jose run for India.
Well, now what matters is that they ran and ran so well that they brought home the gold. The rest is history. Akkunji has received a reward of Rs. 10 lakhs by the government of Karnataka. What is more rewarding for her, I think, is the way the crowd hailed her performance as she crossed over the Nigerian athlete to take the lead. That was indeed a moment!! Well, I am waiting to see what happens next. We have the Asian Games lined up. India now has a history in athletics. I now have a local lady to cheer for.
Well done India. Well done Akkunji!!