Sabita Toppo, no stranger to hurdles - on and off the track
Toppo, the beanpole of a girl from the tribal belt of Sundergarh, won two gold medals at the Khelo India Youth Games 2022.
If the Odisha athletics squad left with their heads high after the three-day track & field of the Khelo India Youth Games ended on Sunday, they owed a lot to two of their double gold medallists - Sabita Toppo and Dondapati Mruty Jayaraj.
The eastern Indian state's haul of four gold medals, one silver and two bronze were a substantial improvement on their returns from the track last year when they ended with one silver and two bronze medals.
What's more, there could have been a fifth gold but triple jumper Swagat Kumar Behara had to remain content with a silver despite his leap of 14.95 metres being exactly the same as gold medallist Kothuri Pranay of Telengana due to a 'technicality.'
When two jumps are the same, the second-best leap is taken into account to decide on the final placement – and that's the area in which Pranay pipped Behara.
"The improvement in our performance has been noticeable and for this, I must thank the High Performance Centre in Bhubaneswar - which is being jointly run by the Odisha government and the Reliance Foundation. The support for us has been excellent in all areas, and our job is to take this performance to the next level,'' said Sabita, the beanpole of a girl from the tribal belt of Sundergarh whose golds came in 100m hurdles and long jump.
The spunky 19-year-old's story is yet another one of character and resilience – which the Khelo India project has helped to unearth in recent years. Sabita hails from a poor family of a farmer and labourer and is the youngest of six siblings who went through the trauma of losing her mother due to Covid in the early days of the pandemic.
"Sabita is a rare talent who has the potential to be a pentathlete in India as she is a competent hurdler as well as a natural long jumper. Her performance graph took a significant leap late last year when she shone with a double-medal show in the Asian Youth Championship in Kuwait – a silver in 100m hurdles (14.17 secs) and then a gold in the medley relay.
She was actually one of our go-to athletes for medals in this edition of Khelo India, which would be the last one for her and she didn't disappoint,'' Martin Owens, the Briton chief coach of the state's High Performance Centre, told the Khelo India Media.
Much to the self-effacing girl's credit, Sabita had actually improved her hurdles timing on way to the gold at the Tantia Tope Stadium here where she clocked 13.96 seconds.
Asked how she is planning to take the next leap from the junior to the Asian level, Sabita was unfazed. ''I am not new to challenges in life and quite headstrong. The double gold haul here has boosted my confidence and my next goal is to make the cut for the Asian Junior Championship a few months later,'' she said in broken Hindi.
Dondapati, the other double gold medallist who won his golds in 100m gold (his excellent timing of 10.53 secs could not be ratified as a national youth record as it was a wind-assisted one) and was a part of the 4 x 100m relay team to land silver, insists that it's the beginning of a dream.
"My aim is now to make it to the Junior Asian meet this year. If I could improve my timing from 10.79 in the heats, I should be able to bring it down further,'' he chipped in during the interaction.