Priti Lamba extends petrol pump worker father's life by 5 years with Asian Games medal
Priti Lamba sneaked into the medal places with 10 meters to go in the 3000m steeplechase final at the Asian Games. Back home, her father, who works at a petrol pump, felt like his dying wish had been fulfilled.
Hangzhou: Things were going perfectly to script in the women's 3000m steeplechase final at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium on Monday night, till the least expected person in the 7-woman field sneaked into the Asian Games bronze medal spot with a mad push with around 10 metres left in the race.
Priti Lamba had the slowest personal best among all the seven women in the final, according to the start list. She had not even been part of the original Indian contingent at the Asian Games. She had sneaked in at the eleventh hour by meeting AFI's selection criteria at the IGP-5 in Chandigarh two weeks before the Games.
As she did another 'sneak job' to beat Bahrain's Tigest Mekonen by less than half a second to the bronze medal, back at her village of Jawa in Faridabad, Haryana, her father felt his life increase by five years.
"I called my father just now, he was crying with joy! He said that his life had increased by 5-6 years, and started crying. He has a very small job at a petrol pump in my village in Faridabad which pays him Rs 10,000 per month," Preeti said about her father Jagbir Lamba.
"He said that he is very old now and that he wants to see his daughter at the Asian Games before dying. He is 57 years old, he had an accident while he was young and it is tough for him. After I was selected for the Asian Games, he said, 'Beti ab tujhe medal laate huye dekhna hai (Now I want to see my daughter bring a medal)'," Priti told reporters after her bronze.
She added with a laugh, "He was very emotional, so he did not mention it, but he will start speaking about the Olympics tomorrow."
Priti, who along with the national record holder Parul Choudhary, gave India a third double podium in Athletics at these Asian Games after Jinson Johnson-Ajay Saroj (1500m) and Karthik Kumar-Gulveer Singh (10000m), said she would have left sports had she not been able to make it to the Asian Games squad.
"I have had many ups and downs in my life. In 2017, I had a fracture, in 2018 I started to recover, in 2019 I started winning medals, in 2020 the pandemic stopped me in my tracks, in 2021 I started again and had a calf injury. This year, I started working with the thought that If I don't play at the Asiad, I will leave the sport," Priti said.
A strategic race timed to perfection
The most remarkable thing about Priti's race on Monday was how she timed it to perfection. She was nowhere with the leading pack, which comprised Parul and the two Bahranian runners, for most of the race.
As the race got into its final two laps, and decathlon athlete Tejaswin Shankar came over to cheer the two Indians on for a grandstand finish, Priti picked up pace.
With one lap to go, she got into touching distance of the top three.
With around 200 meters to go, she got into a dogfight with the Bahraini who eventually finished at 4th. With just 10 metres left, Priti overtook her, as her compatriot Parul watched with delight from across the finish line.
Knowing her own limitations, Priti targeted the bronze medal, her tactical astuteness coming from her learnings from the Asian Athletics Championships earlier this year.
"The race was very good. I had a medal on my mind as I made a big mistake at the Asian Athletics Championships. I didn't want to repeat it here. I had let go in the last 50m and came fourth by 2 microseconds," Priti said.
"I didn't go with the first group as I didn't want to push unnecessarily. I wanted to fight for the medal. Had I followed Parul and the world champion, it could have got tight for me. I played tactically as I knew that bronze was the most viable option," Priti said.