Making it to the Olympics is something all the Track and Field Athletes dream about, the euphoria of representing the Nation on the biggest stage while sharing the field with the best is unmatched. Unfortunately, India's Olympic Track and Field representation are poor compared to the top Nations around the World, but Discus thrower Seema Punia has been to three Olympics already. Punia has walked behind the Indian flag with the contingent at Athens 2004, London 2012 and Rio 2016.
Now, Punia will represent the Nation at the big stage in Tokyo Olympics after her throw of 63.72m at the National Inter-State Athletics Championships in Patiala broke the Olympic qualifying mark of 63.50m. Punia has become the second Indian Discus thrower after Kamalpreet Kaur who booked her ticket with a massive national record effort of 65.06m on the final day of the Federation Cup Senior National Athletics Championships on 19 March.
Punia's journey to this point has been far from smooth; she has faced Doping allegations in the past, which somehow get plugged in when her achievements are reported. Early in her career, Punia was considered a 'Millenium Child' destined to fulfil India's dire need for Track and Field Medals on the Olympic stage after her Gold medal at the 2000 Junior World Championships in Chile. However, Punia's Gold was withdrawn after she tested positive for a stimulant called pseudoephedrine. Punia pleaded her innocence, saying she did not know that the medicine she took en route to Chile for cold contained the banned substance. A two-member panel of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), having heard the case, recommended that Punia be warned rather than suspended.
Punia's woes did not stop at Chile; she found herself embroiled in another controversy during the 2006 Doha Asian Games. Doha was supposed to be Punia's debut at the Asian Games; However, she withdrew from the Indian team before the Games and left Doha. There were speculations that she had tested positive for banned substances which were calmed after a swift AFI panel convened for the matter gave her the green signal. However, Punia did not change her decision citing her Father's ill health and the negative publicity surrounding her. Punia felt she is often snubbed for major sports awards due to the negative publicity she received over the years.
Doping allegations have a severe impact on an Athletes career; all the achievements before and after being looked at through a lens of scepticism. Athletes like Justin Gatlin, who had suffered a similar fate in multiple Doping scandals, had to work hard to make headlines for the right reasons. Gatlin, who was previously banned twice early in his career despite serving a ban sentenced by United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in 2006, was booed at the 2016 Rio Olympics when the announcer introduced him for the 100m Final.
Seema, a sub-inspector with the Haryana Police, says not making it to the final round of the Olympics has always bugged her, "I don't have any particular regret as such in my career but the failure to make it to the Olympics final round still rankles me. That is why I want to be in the 2020 Olympics and do well there," Punia told The Indian Express. Let's hope, fourth time is the charm.