Saturday, June 09, 2007

The joy of qualifying

Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The Week, Malayala Manorama, Kochi.

By Shevlin Sebastian

The bar is set at 1.91m, the qualifying mark for the Athens Olympic Games for the women's high jump. Bobby Aloysius of Kerala is the sole competitior left at the 44th national inter-state athletic championships in Chennai. Sahani Kumari of Karnataka could only manage 1.80m.
Bobby does a series of spot jumps, wearing a black Nike t-shirt and tight blue shorts. Then she raises her hands and urges the audience to encourage her. They raise a clap and a cheer as she breaks into a hop, step and a run, coming at the bar sideways. She does the Fosbury Flop but her lower back hits the bar and it falls to the ground.
She returns to the top of her run and walks up and down, completely oblivious to the crowd and the heats of the men's 400m which is taking place.
Once again, she is ready and darts down and rises up. Once again, she just touches the bar. It wobbles, it trembles and suddenly, it falls to the ground. “On my second jump, I decided to put in a tremendous effort but in the process, my technique failed and I really hit the bar very hard. When I returned, I went and asked my sister Bindu Aloysius, who is a former junior national high jumper, about which jump was better and she said it was the first.”
Two failed jumps and only one more to go. The trip to Athens is hanging by a slender thread. Bobby sits on the ground and massages her calves vigorously. Then she gets up and washes her face with mineral water and wipes it with a towel. There are calls of "Come on Bobby." The tension in the air is palpable as scribes, officials, fellow athletes and spectators watch silently. Walter Dawaram, with his trademark cap, the president of the Tamil Nadu Athletics Association and who earned fame for almost nabbing bandit Veerapan as head of the Special task Force, sits on a nearby chair.
Bobby sets out on her run and loses her rhythm and goes past the bar without jumping. “I never do this,” she says. “I always complete a jump when I set out. But this time, within the first three steps, I could see that my rhythm was off and so I decided not to jump.”
She goes back to her run, takes a deep breath and this times she goes full tilt. She crosses over, the bar shakes but it remains in place. She has qualified! She goes mad. She clutches her hands together, she jumps up, she runs, she is crying, she is yelling, she falls to the ground, as she presses her hands to her eyes. Then she gets up and rushes to the stands, towards her sister Bindu, who proffers her the mobile. Her husband is on the line from London, and she shouts, "I did it, I did it. I don't know how but I did it." Incidentally, she has set a new national and meet record. She had also set her earlier record of 1.90m at an inter-state athletics meet in Bangalore in 2002.
V. Prerna, a 12-year-old schoolgirl asks, desperation in her voice, "Sir, can I borrow a piece of paper?" I tear off a page off my notebook and she borrows my pen and proffers both to Bobby, who signs with a nervous shake of her hand. Prerna herself is shaking with excitement as she returns the pen to me.
Bobby’s college coach, T.P. Ouseph comes up and congratulates her as does former national champion Saramma. So will Bobby do anything in Athens? The chance is nil. 1.91m will not get you into the final. To get a medal you need to reach closer to 2m. But she is optimistic. “Remember that this track in Chennai is ten years old. I could do at least four more centimeters on a world class track. Also, there is no pressure on me. People do not expect anything. So I will be utterly relaxed and try to perform to the best of my ability. Who knows what might happen? Do you know the silver medal winner in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Niki Bakogianni of Greece, won by jumping three times her personal best time. In high jump, on a given day, anything can happen. So I am not giving up hope, as yet.”
Whether she reaches the final or not, she is going to become an Olympian, one of a select band of 10,000 athletes who can call them Olympians. In a world population of 6 billion, this is indeed a select band. And she can proudly tell her grandchildren that she did take part in an Olympic Games.
Sometimes, taking part is as important as winning.

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