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Athletics

When JJ Shobha ran with a torn ligament and finished third at the Athens Olympics

Competing in heptathlon, JJ Shobha tore her ligament during javelin throw before finishing third in the 800m.

JJ Shobha 2004 Athens Olympics Injury 800m
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JJ Shobha at the 2004 Athens Olympics (Source: The Hindu)

By

Abhijit Nair

Published: 18 Oct 2021 12:46 PM GMT

Sports, much like life, is full of uncertainties. No one can ever predict the highs and lows an athlete have to go through in his or her career. Sports has the tendency to bring out this indomitable spirit of athletes – something which blows the mind of people across the globe.

Indian sports fans have seen Yogeshwar Dutt bringing an Olympic medal despite an eye injury, we have seen Anil Kumble bowl with a broken jaw and more recently we saw an injured Hanuma Vihari help India draw a test match in Australia.

While all these instances are mentioned quite often when we talk about the heroics of Indian sportspersons, the one instance which almost everyone misses out on is Javur Jagdeeshappa Shobha's bravery from the 2004 Athens Olympics.

A heptathlete from the southern Indian state of Karnataka, JJ Shobha was competing in her first Olympic Games then in the capital city of Greece. Just 24-year-old then, Shobha finished very far off from the podium but managed to put up one of India's greatest performances in the history of the Olympics in Athens.

Shobha had a decent run at the Olympics until the penultimate event of heptathlon – the javelin throw. She had managed to muster 4,560 points in the first six events, including a massive 1046 in 100m hurdles and 1038 in 200m sprint.

A podium finish, though tough, did seem realistic for India and JJ Shobha after the conclusion of six events. However, things took an ugly turn during javelin throw. She had a decent start to the event, throwing the javelin to a distance of 44.36m in her first attempt.

Determined to better her throw, Shobha ran in for her second attempt. The run-up seemed to be perfect, but she somehow lost her balance. Though she managed to throw the javelin a fair distance, she tumbled down and grimaced in pain holding her left knee.

The medical officials rushed in and stretchered her off the field. It was a ligament tear. And the final event of the heptathlon – the 800m run, was scheduled to start in an hour.

Though Shobha was a terrific sprinter, her record in middle-distance runs was not that impressive. She had worked extremely hard to improve her middle-distance running ahead of the Olympics and was one of the favourites in the event by the time she reached Athens. It was the event where she was expected to make up for the points she had lost in other events.

While it was announced in the stadium that Shobha would not be competing in the 800m due to the injury, the heptathlete had other ideas.

Having taken some painkillers and bandaged her left knee, Shobha was out on the field. The crowd and the competitors were taken aback.

As expected Shobha started off slowly. In fact, she was way behind others at the last position after the first 200 meters. She was struggling to run and it seemed this is what destiny had in store for her.

However, JJ Shobha is not someone who gives up. Out of nowhere, the Karnataka girl increased her pace. She left the seventh runner behind, then the sixth and then the fifth.

By the time she crossed the finish line, JJ Shobha was third. There it was – a historic run braving all odds in Athens.

"I was shocked to see her in the warm-up area. I never thought she'd be able to walk again, forget run," the eventual gold medallist in heptathlon Carolina Kluft had said after the race about Shobha as reported by The Indian Express.

Competing at the Olympics in itself is a big achievement and Shobha did not want to let go of her opportunity. Despite the odds stacked against her she finished the event and eventually finished 11th in the heptathlon.

JJ Shobha again competed at the Olympics during the 2008 edition in Beijing and finished a lowly 29th.


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