The Indian relay teams — men’s, women’s and mixed — have been in the news for quite a while now. It’s no secret that the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) has been pushing for a medal at a world meet from the relay teams (especially women’s) since before the turn of the century.
Most recently, the mixed relay team have started to catch attention with their impressive performances, first at the Asian Championships and then at the ongoing Athletics World Championships.
For Muhammed Anas, an integral member of the team, it’s all about working harder and improving every day. In an exclusive interaction with The Bridge, the 25-year-old asserted:
Indeed, in the semifinals of the mixed relay event in Doha, Anas and his teammates enjoyed a near-perfect run, barring for a slight baton mishap involving Jisna and Nirmal. Still, they managed to record a season-best timing of 3:16.14 and finished third to qualify for the finals and subsequently sealed an Olympic berth.
If Jisna and Nirmal had managed to exchange the baton seamlessly, India would have clocked a better time. When asked about the incident Anas said, “The batton mishap is a normal thing in relay, sometimes it happens. But that does not mean that we are not taking that incident seriously. We are working hard in training, to build more co-ordination so that it will help with the baton exchange.”
In the final, Anas gave India the perfect start, maintaining a slender but subsequent lead over his closest opponent. In fact, after the first lap, one could even hear whispers that India might bag their first medal in Doha. However, Vismaya, Jisna, and Nirmal could not keep up the pace and eventually, India finished seventh despite eclipsing their semi-final timing and recording a new season-best (3:15.77).
The Indian mixed relay team were missing two of their regular stars in Doha due to injuries. Both ‘Golden girl’ Hima Das and Rajiv Arokia were forced to sit out of the World Championships which made India’s task tougher.
Speaking about their absence, Anas admitted that the team missed both Hima and Rajiv. He said, “Definitely, we missed them. Both Hima and Rajiv are top class athletes. But I am glad that even in their absence we could perform so well. So, their inclusion will only help us get better.”
‘Worked on increasing stamina in Europe’
Prior to the World Championships, the Indian runners were camping in Europe from December last year —barring a break in February-March at home for some competitions — training under coach Galina Bukharina.
From an average of 15-degree centigrade in Europe, the quarter-milers made a jump to 38 degrees in Doha. Understandably, there were a few apprehensions regarding whether or not they will be able to acclimatise quickly enough.
Speaking about the training-cum-competition programme, Anas said that the conditions were ideal for runners to train in. He also revealed how there were certain training exercises that focussed on increasing his stamina, which eventually helped in Doha. He said:
The Kerala-born athlete also spoke about how the team was improving with every race, something that has been a massive boost for their confidence.
“Also, with the coach’s help, we are able to improve our performances, improve our timing. If you see, in the semis we finished third, but it was in the final that we hit our season-best time. So, we are improving in every race, I think that’s what is most important at the moment,” Anas said.
“The fact that we are improving every day gives us the confidence that we can get closer to the top countries. In future, I’m certain, we will be able to breach that gap,” he added.
‘Focussed only on relay and result is in front of you’
Heading into the World Championships, national record holder Anas was left out of the individual 400m event — despite breaching the qualifying mark back in July at the Kladno international meet in the Czech Republic. He had crossed the qualifying mark of 45.30s by clocking 45.21s, thus bettering his own earlier national record (45.24s).
However, as per reports, the AFI had only entered his name for the men’s 4x400m relay and mixed 4x400m relay. An AFI source was quoted saying that Anas’ name was not entered in the individual event so that he could ‘help the country better’ in relay.
The reports had given birth to a small-scale debate on whether or not it was the right decision to drop Anas from the individual event. The mixed 4x400m relay event was on 29th September, the men’s 400m individual event is scheduled to be held on 4th October while the men’s 4x400m relay will be held on 5th October. Anas could have easily participated in all the events and could have still given his best.
Look at Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser. She took part in individual 400m, mixed relay, and will also, in all likelihood, participate in women’s relay as well, and her timings have only improved. In fact, the final of the individual event at the World Championships, she ran 400m in 48.14s — the fastest time recorded in the world in 34 years.
Anas, on his part, played down the incident saying that because he did not participate in the individuals, he could focus solely on relay. “Not participating in the individual event helped me divert all my focus on relay. And the result is in front of you,” he signed off.