Chennai: Tamil Nadu’s `Gundur Express’ is all set to board the flight to Tokyo Olympics after breaking the speed record held by the `Payyoli Express’.
Twenty-three-year-old S. Dhanalakshmi, the speedster from Gundur village near Tiruchirappalli in Tamil Nadu set the race tracks on fire at the 24th National Federation Cup held recently at Patiala.
It is there Dhanalakshmi the ‘Gundur Express’ with her 23.26 seconds dash in the 200 metres heats broke the 23-year old record of `Payyoli Express’ or P.T.Usha who had run that distance in 23.30 seconds.
Prior to that Dhanalakshmi sprinted to gold in the 100 metre clocking 11.39 seconds beating Dutee Chand.
“Initially I was playing Kho Kho while in school. The PT (physical training teacher) suggested that I switch over to sprinting,” Dhanalakshmi told IANS.
Like the muscle in a marathon runner’s body, Dhanalakshmi is very economical with her words.
Born into a poor family, Dhanalakshmi lost her father Sekhar early in her life. It was her mother Usha who took care of Dhanalakshmi and her elder sister who is now married.
“The initial days were very tough to make the ends meet. In addition to that, there were expenses to be incurred to participate in meets,” Dhanalakshmi said.
“Amma used to pawn some gold to raise money to meet my sporting expenses,” she mused.
As there are no cash prizes to be won, the expenditure incurred by the athletes from poor families are to be considered as upfront investment for better days in the future.
Usha who is into farming had immense faith in her daughter Dhanalakshmi and continued to support her even when others uttered discouraging words pointing out the poor financial conditions.
With her PT suggesting to switch over to sprinting, Dhanalakshmi decided to train under a medal winning Indian Railway athlete 31 year old Manikanda Arumugam in Tiruchirappalli.
Arumugam was part of the bronze medal winning Indian team in the 4×100 metres Asian Grand Prix held in Thailand in 2015. He has won several golds in the Railways events.
He has coached several medal winning runners and were hired under sports quota by various government departments.
“Even now my coach continues to win medals in events. It is a big inspiration for me,” Dhanalakshmi said.
Training under Arumugham since 2016, Dhanalakshmi started figuring in the medal list for the past two years at the district, state and national levels.
“Kho Kho and running are totally different in terms of training in weights and on tracks. Dhanalakshmi had to unlearn old things and learn new techniques,” Arumugam told IANS.
Speaking about his Tokyo bound ward Arumugam said: “What I like in Dhanalakshmi is her willingness to put in hard work.”
Arumugam is always just a phone call away whenever Dhanalakshmi goes outstation to race.
“At times she would get tensed up ahead of a race by looking at the competition. She would then call me and I would bring her to a comfort zone boosting her confidence levels. She would then come back with a medal,” Arumugam said.
Now in Patiala, Dhanalakshmi and her team mates are being trained by Russian-American coach Galina Bukharana.
“We do a lot of running workouts, weights and power track-running while pulling a 25kg weight plate-uphill running. We do several sets of running. We train in the morning and evening,” team mate Subha Venkatesan had told IANS.
The team is also practicing baton exchange.
As it is going to be a mixed relay, the team is planning to have the men as the first and last runners to give the fast start and finish and the women as second and third runners to gain further on the initial advantage.
At the Tokyo Olympics, Dhanalaksmi, the ‘Gundur Express’ is expected to be a key member of India’s 4×400 mixed relay team.