"Risk hai, toh records hai" - A slogan that fits Avinash Sable's rising career graph
After being bogged down by disappointment in Olympics, eight-time national record holder steeplechaser Avinash Sable shares how taking risks has been instrumental to his success.
'Meteoric' — is the word that best describes Avinash Sable's rise as a steeplechaser. Since 2018, the 27-year-old has been able to break his own national record in 3000m steeplechase eight times with the latest being in his maiden appearance at the prestigious Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco. The Olympian on Sunday struck down nearly 4 seconds from his personal best, clocking a remarkable 8.12.48. He finished fifth in the race ahead of the Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Benjamin Kigen of Kenya, who ended eighth in 8:17.32.
The Army man in the Mahar Regiment, hailing from Beed, Maharashtra credits the risks that he has taken in life behind his road to glory. "One month after recovering from COVID-19, I went on to take part in the Tokyo Olympics. I knew I wouldn't perform well there. And after finishing seventh in the heats, despite creating a national record, I came back home disappointed. I tried to comprehend my situation while helping my family with farming. After a two-month break at home, I went to the national camp in October. Over the years, the federation had asked me to go abroad and train. I never felt comfortable doing so. But in April this year, I took the risk and came at the high altitude of Colorado Springs in America, and then onwards I have been doing well," says Avinash in an interaction with the media on Friday.
Finding his mojo in the USA
Sable is training in the USA under the aegis of coach Nick Simmons with his eyes firmly set on the World Athletics Championships in Oregon, which is scheduled from July 15-24. Though initially, he was a skeptic of training in Colorado as in the past, others like Jinson Johnson couldn't acclimatise well due to the cold weather, he slowly came out of the comfort zone and adjusted well to the diet and training regime under Simmons. He admits, "I was the only athlete who flew to the USA in April, so was scared about my diet and then the language barrier. But I realised it was the best decision for me and slowly made adjustments. Though I would have got better training facilities in India, I could not have got the training partners I have found here like Tokyo 2020 bronze medallist in 5000m, Paul Chelimo. If you train with the best athletes in the world, it automatically motivates you to do even better. The athletes here can perform well at every altitude and that is what inspires me to race with the best in the world."
Besides, in the Rabat Diamond League, Avinash also got a taste of competing with the best steeplechasers in the world including two Olympic gold medallists Soufiane Bakkali and Consensus Kipruto and an Olympic silver (Lamecha Girma) and bronze medallists (Benjamin Kigen). The only time he's competed with these athletes is at the World Championships in 2019 and the Tokyo Olympics. He needs this competition in advance so he knows what to do at the upcoming Worlds.
Diamond League - A chance to compete with the best
"It was just like competing in the Olympics or the World Championships final. It was my first time competing in the Diamond League. We can definitely improve by competing in world-class events like this. I believe this is good preparation for me leading up to the World Championships. It is good that I am getting an opportunity to compete in a quality field like the Diamond League. In India when I am competing in the steeplechase, I am usually running alone in the field. It is good that I get to learn how to run in a pack while clearing hurdles and also learn the strategies of some of the other top runners." says Sable.
After reaching a timing 8.12 at the Diamond League, Sable believes that a sub-8 minute time is also achievable – which will be a first for an Indian. He adds, "In 2018 when I started competing in steeplechase, I was doing 8.29-30 and never knew I could rise to 8.12 minute time. At that time anything below 9 was considered good in India and I was also able to clock that time thinking that a good result would give me a promotion in the Army. But now I am well past it and I feel that sub-8 minute is also achievable. I don't think we are any less capable than foreign athletes. As the competition gets tougher, it's the toughness that gets me going. Besides, I want to set the inspiration for others to take up steeplechase in India, like what Neeraj (Chopra) has done in Javelin."
In addition to his pet event, where the Indian bettered his national mark twice in three months, Sable has also set new milestones. He broke a 30-year-old national record in the men's 5000m clocking 13:25.65s at the Sound Running Track Meet in San Juan Capistrano, the USA in 2022. He broke the previous record of 13:29.70 set by Bahadur Singh in Birmingham in 1992.
The athlete sponsored by the JSW Group also holds the existing half marathon national record, with timing of 1:00:30s run at the Delhi Half Marathon in 2020. Avinash Sable is the only Indian to date to finish half a marathon in less than 61 minutes. With the Commonwealth Games scheduled in Birmingham later this year and the Asian Games next year, all eyes will be on Avinash Sable at these two big-ticket events. Paris 2024, however, will be the Indian ace's long-term goal.
"I have now the zeal to win medals in the World Championships and Commonwealth Games. I cannot shift my focus from Steeplechase until I am at par with the best athletes in the world. So I would be chasing this target with single-minded focus till the Paris Olympics, which is my long-term goal," concludes Sable.