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How four sprinters from Tamil Nadu overcame extreme poverty to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics

India is sending a total of 11 sprinters to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics - 5 of whom are from Tamil Nadu.

2020 Tokyo Olympics India Athletics Naganathan Pandi V Revathi Arokia Rajiv Dhanalakshmi Sekhar

(L to R): Arokia Rajiv, Subha Venkateshan, Naganathan Pandi, V Revathi and Dhanalakshmi Sekhar (Source: Times of India)


Abhijit Nair

Updated: 11 July 2021 11:38 AM GMT

India is sending a total of 11 sprinters to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – 5 each in Men's 4x400m relay and Mixed 4x400m relay along with the star runner Dutee Chand for the Women's 100m and 200m sprints.

One state which has dominated the Indian sprinting contingent for the Tokyo Olympics is Tamil Nadu. Five out of the total eleven who have qualified come from the southern Indian state.

V. Revathi (Mixed 4x400m), Subha Venkatesh (Mixed 4x400m), Dhanalakshmi Sekhar (Mixed 4x400m), Naganathan Pandi (Men's 4x400m) and Arokia Rajiv (Men's 4x400m), all hail from Tamil Nadu.

While the selection of Arokia Rajiv in the Men's 4x400m was a straightforward call, the rest made it to the Olympic team based on their performance in the trials conducted by the Athletics Federation of India (AFI).

Naganathan Pandi

Naganathan Pandi (Source: The New Indian Express)

Just 25-year-old Nagnathan Pandi is a police constable. His father was a farmhand, and his mother was a housewife. Childhood was tough for Pandi, who had three siblings.

He used to work as a construction labourer during weekends and vacations to feed his family. Having taken up running while in school, a young Naganathan Pandi used to run barefoot in tournaments because he could not afford to buy shoes. His school gifted him shoes when he qualified for a district-level sports meet, according to a report in The New Indian Express.

Naganathan, who has an undergraduate degree in History, used to work part-time during his college years to pay his fees. He was inducted into the Tamil Nadu Police in the year 2017 and has a stable income ever since.

Naganathan Pandi was selected to the Indian Men's 4x400m contingent for the Tokyo Olympics after he clocked 48.24 seconds in the trial organised by the AFI on 5th June 2021.

V Revathi

V Revathi (Source: The Hindu)

V Revathi has been in and around Indian athletics for quite some time. However, she had to wait until her first-placed finish in the AFI organised trials for getting the much-deserved media attention.

Born in the city of Madurai, Revathi clocked 53.55 seconds to win the trials and force her way as the premier female quarter-miler for India's mixed 4x400m relay team.

The 23-year-old lost her father when she was studying in grade 4th and her mother the very next year. Ever since, Revathi, along with her younger sister, stayed in government-run hostels and studied in government-run schools, with little support from her farm labourer grandmother.

Revathi was noticed by her coach when she ran barefoot during a zonal meet, and there has been no looking back since for the youngster.

Dhanalakshmi Sekhar

Dhanalakshmi Sekhar

Dhanalakshmi Sekhar shot to fame when she defeated the likes of Dutee Chand and Hima Das in the finals of the Federation Cup in March 2021.

The 22-year-old lost her father at an early age and was brought up by a single mother, who used to work as a domestic help to educate and feed Dhanalakshmi and her two siblings.

Sports, for Dhanalakshmi, was just a medium to escape from the grasp of poverty and lead a better life.

The youngster started her sporting career with the traditional Indian sport of Kho-Kho, before making a switch as a sprinter at the suggestion of her coach. The decision proved to be a great one as Dhanalakshmi soon rose through the ranks and now finds herself on the flight to Tokyo ahead of the much more fancied names like Hima Das, Jisna Mathew, VK Vismaya and MR Poovamma.

Dhanalakshmi was expected to qualify for the Olympics in the 100m and 200m sprints but was rather selected for the mixed 4x400m relay team after clocking 54.27 seconds in the trials conducted by AFI.

Arokia Rajiv

Arokia Rajiv (Source: Times of India)

Arokia Rajiv has been a vital cog in the wheel for the Indian men's 4x400m relay team for a long time. The 30-year-old, in fact, even competed in the 400m relay for India during the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Rajiv was born to a lorry driver in the year 1991. The quarter-miler faced a lot of financial struggles during his early days when he did not even have the money to afford shoes. The 2018 Asian Games medallist once ran a state-level tournament after borrowing shoes from one of his close friends.

With a personal best of 45.37 seconds, which he recorded during the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Arokia Rajiv has to be at his best if India are to stand a chance of even making it to the final of men's 4x400m relay at the Tokyo Olympics.

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