With Hima Das, Saritaben Gayakwad gone, India’s 4x400m quartet faces restart – other sports

These days, running is the last thing on international sprinter Saritaben Gayakwad’s mind. Back at her village home in Gujarat, Gayakwad is happy assisting her parents in their daily chores. One of the mainstays of the women’s 4x400m national relay team since August 2018, Gayakwad has made up her mind about taking a break this season. “I haven’t done any training since March. I’m enjoying the break,” said Gayakwad over phone from her home.

Her decision could prompt the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) to scout for a replacement for the postponed Tokyo Olympics. India had a quality quartet of Gayakwad, Hima Das, MR Poovamma and VK Vismaya that had won gold at the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games. Gayakwad was also member of the squad that won silver at the 2019 Doha Asian Championships. Last December, Das—the fastest runner in the quartet with a personal best of 50.79 secs—switched to 200m as she wasn’t able to focus on 400m due to persistent back injury. With both Das and now Gayakwad unavailable, there would be considerable pressure on Vismaya and Poovamma, currently attending camp in Patiala, to step up.

The revised deadline to achieve qualification, as per World Athletics, is June 29 next year. The top eight nations have already qualified during 2019 World Championships. The remaining eight will get a chance to compete in Olympics through global rankings.

Lack of motivation, according to Gayakwad, is the main reason for not training at the moment. “There is no competition this season. Even if tentatively, the domestic season starts in September or October. I’m not participating,” said the 26 year old. The sprinter was at the national camp since November last year but she went back to her village—Kharadi Amba in Gujarat’s Dang district—before the nationwide lockdown began. “It feels good to stay with my parents as I was away for a long time due to training. I’m helping them in cultivating paddy as there is shortage of labour these days,” she said.

After winning the women’s 400m hurdles title in Patiala in March last year, Gayakwad had said her next goal would be to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. In April, she also won bronze at the Continental Championships in Doha, clocking 57.2 secs. Her personal best of 57.04 secs had come in 2018. Despite considerable international exposure in 2019, she couldn’t achieve the Olympic qualifying time of 55.40 secs. “I had an ankle injury and later a knee problem. I missed training for 3-4 months,” she said.

But Gayakwad is not ready to commit herself to any goal right now. She is soaking in the village life, keeping herself busy cutting fodder for her cattle and collecting firewood. “We have gas stove but food cooked on firewood taste better,” she said. An officer at the state’s income tax department, Gayakwad doesn’t have any immediate plans to retire though. “Maybe I can try next season. But right now I’m enjoying the village life,” she said.

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