The small village of Mohi is a relatively unknown area in the Satara district of Maharashtra. Steeped in poverty and lack of basic amenities, life in Mohi is well removed for the hustle and bustle of cities like Mumbai.
It is here that Lalita Babar began her journey that ultimately culminated into one national record after another. Growing up in the 90s, a six-year old Babar would regularly sprint to her school which was almost four kilometers away from home. Her parents, farmers by occupation, could not afford shoes, so the little girl would run barefoot.
Representing the state at a national level competition for schools held in Pune in 2005, Babar clinched gold running without shoes once again in the 3000 meters race. A decade later, she now finds herself facing the opportunity to clinch gold at the Olympics, 32 years after PT Usha last qualified for an individual track event final at the Summer Games.
BABAR’S EMERGENCE AS A PROSPECT
The scouting of Babar’s talent occurred under the most unusual circumstances. It was during a kho-kho event that her coach Bharat Chavan singled her out. Watching her sprint in the 400m and 800m races, Chavan persuaded her to compete at national level. The rest, as they say, is history.
As a long distance runner, Babar turned her attention to 3000m steeplechase in 2014, following her victory at the Mumbai Marathon. At the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, she finished third, but was promoted to the silver medal upon disqualification of the gold medalist Ruth Jebet.
Her effort in the final was timed at 9:35.37 – a new national record in the discipline. For the first time in her track and field career, Babar was beginning to reap the rewards of dedication and hard work.
BREAKING NATIONAL RECORDS REPEATEDLY
The 2015 Asian Championships saw her set the games record and bettering her own personal record by clocking 9:34.13.
At the 2015 World Championships at Beijing, Babar scripted a new national record for the third time in two years with a time of 9:27.86 in her qualifying heat. However, she completed the finals at a modest eighth position after leading the pack for an appreciable fraction of the race.
In a remarkable turn of fortunes, Babar found herself sidelined from mainstream athletics after picking up an injury during the 25km race in Kolkata that was aggravated during the Mumbai Marathon in early 2016. It was not until February that she could return to the track.
Limited preparations, however, refused to be a hurdle for the 26-year-old who has been championing obstacles right from her childhood. She settled for nothing less than gold at the Federation Cup in April, shattering the national record once again with a timing of 9:27.09.
AWE-INSPIRING PERFORMANCE AT THE OLYMPICS
Participating alongside fellow runner Sudha Singh, Babar lit up the track at Rio with yet another national record during the 3000 Steeplechase heat – this time at a staggering 9:19.76 seconds. She finished just outside the top three in her heat, but managed to qualify for the finals despite falling early in the race.
Monday will decide whether destiny rewards Babar’s struggles against poverty, apathy and ignorance with material honor, but medal or not, it may be safe to assume that the Maharashtrian girl will return home as an icon in the eyes of aspiring athletes in India.
More than a billion Indians stayed up Saturday night with hope that the Indian tennis mixed doubles team of Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna would assure their country of a first medal at Rio 2016. But it was not to be as the fourth seeds squandered a one-set lead to lose 6-2, 2-6, 3-10 to the American pair of Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram.
They will now take on the Czech combine of Lucie Hradecka and Radek Stepanek in the bronze medal match on Sunday. Suffice to say, it won’t be easy and the Indians will have to be at their very best if they are to secure this last medal-winning opportunity.
As the highest seeds remaining in the draw, much was expected of Mirza and Bopanna against the Americans.
With four Olympic gold medals to her name, Venus Williams looked a shadow of herself in the first set and the Indians took advantage of this to take the opener 6-2 in just 26 minutes.
In the second set, Williams returned to her imperious best to guide the Americans into a 4-2 lead. An inspired Ram was colossal at the net and reeled off a number of outstanding points to force a tie-break (6-2).
The Indians quickly regrouped and looked to have rediscovered their form when leading 3-1. But that would be the last time they led the match as Venus unleashed a number of strong forehands to level the tie-break 3-3.
After that, it was a one-sided contest and the Americans claimed the next seven points to win 10-3.
There are victories, and there are victories over your historic rivals in their own backyard in the Olympic Games with you scoring 37 points.
In the game of the men’s basketball tournament so far, Argentina overcame Brazil 111-107 in double overtime which left the hosts’ chances of advancing beyond the group stage near-impossible.
Chief offensive weapon was veteran Nocioni, who NBA fans may recall starred for the Chicago Bulls around 10 years ago.
At 37, he’s still got it with some dead-eye shooting including a clutch 3-pointer with three seconds remaining which bounced all over the rim before dropping and sending the game into overtime. Magical.