Commonwealth Games 2022: When walking would suffice, Avinash Sable ran
Coming from a humble background, Avinash Sable has achieved what most athletes will dream of. Here is his story.
Brought up in penury, Avinash Sable ran when walking would suffice. He would carry out most of the activities, including covering a distance of six kilometres from his home to school and running. Both ways, every day, for years.
Little did the Sables know their son's everyday routine from younger days was gradually turning into baby steps to a career in athletics. The very humble background also attracted the attention of his coach Amrish Kumar, who acted as the fulcrum around which Sable started achieving success, the latest being the silver-winning effort of 8:11.20 at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.
"When I was a child, I had never thought I would become an athlete and win medals for the country. It's destiny," the 27-year-old would say. Having taken to competitive sport after joining the Indian Army five years ago, Sable is a classic case of an athlete with a "will of steel" conquering lofty heights despite enormous hardships. Born to a poor farmer's family at Mandwa village in Maharashtra's Beed district, Sable made rewriting the 3000m steeplechase national record a habit. At Birmingham, he became the first non-Kenyan to win a medal since 1994 at CWG.
A versatile distance runner, Sable owns national records in three events. He also holds the 5000m (13:25.65) and half marathon (1:00:30) national records. He broke the 30-year-old earlier 5000m national record of Bahadur Prasad in May. After passing his 12th class examination, Sable joined the Indian Army to support his parents financially, and that changed his life.
Besides success in sports, he is now also a Junior Commission Officer (JCO). Many of the top athletes in India and the world over start early when they are at school. But Sable started late. In 2015, when he was 21, he was enrolled with the 5 Mahar regiment and was posted at Siachen and then Rajasthan and Sikkim. His army training and survival in extreme climates made him a tough man.
He would say later that competing in races was no match with the tough Army training. After joining the Indian Army, Sable had gained weight -- reached up to 76kg -- and one day there was to be a cross-country race in his regiment and he wanted to take part in it. But his weight was the obstacle so he woke up earlier than his other colleagues and did extra exercises to make himself leaner.
He soon became a part of the Services side that won the team competition and secured fifth place in the individual event at the National Cross Country Championship. That is when he met his former coach Kumar and the rest, as they say, is history.
It was 2017, and under Kumar, who is also an Indian Army coach mentoring long-distance athletes, Sable changed switched from cross country to 3000m steeplechase. The duo achieved success after success, with Sable smashing a slew of national records. Sable's humble background, in fact, clinched the issue for Kumar to take him under his wings. "For me, the background of the athlete is very important. Those who come from humble families, from the villages have faced the worst situations in life, those things made them hardened and battle ready. They are not afraid of adversity and want to work hard.
"Even then, among those athletes I trained, Sable was special and different from others. He has a will of steel and he can come back from any worse scenario," Kumar told PTI on Sunday. Besides Sable's mental strength, Kumar said his ward also had the physical attributes of becoming a successful distance runner. "I took tests of Sable on several parameters and he passed all those for a beginner. Of course, I taught him the running techniques to him from scratch. He had nothing with him and everything developed under me." Sable's rise has been meteoric.
He was fifth in the Federation Cup in 2017 but won the title in the National Open that year, and he ran sub-9m for the first time. Within a year, he broke the legendary Gopal Saini's 37-year-old national record at the 2018 National Open Championships with a time of 8:29.80.
In 2019, he obliterated his national record three times -- the last of the three bringing the time to 8:21.37 during the World Championships in Doha, where he finished 13th in the final. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the virus did not spare Sable. After lowering the national record for the fifth time in early 2021 to 8:20.20, Sable tested positive for COVID three months before the Tokyo Olympics, and that shattered his dream of doing well at the Games. He still broke his own national record in Tokyo, but that was only good enough for a seventh-place finish in his heat.
The result shattered Sable and he went into a shell for a while, going back home and giving up training. "I knew that he is a fighter, I told him to forget everything and start training again and improve on his timing further," Kumar said. Sable broke his own national record for the seventh time early this year and repeated it during the prestigious Rabat Diamond League leg in June. He went into the World Championships in Eugene, USA, last month full of hope and confidence. But, in a tactical and slowest 3000m steeplechase final in World Championships history, Sable lost the plot, finishing 11th with a time of 8:31.75.
The CWG victory is a redemption of sorts for Sable after the World Championships disappointment. On his way to the podium, he beat defending champion, 2016 Olympics gold winner and World Championships bronze medallist Conseslus Kipruto. Sable, who now trains under American Scott Simmons, also beat another top Kenyan Amos Serem.