Gomathi Marimuthu, the 30-year-old middle distance runner from Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, created history yesterday by winning India’s first gold medal in the 23rd Asian Athletics Championships at the Khalifa Stadium in Doha, Qatar.
In a classic comeback, Gomathi emerged from the back of the pack and stormed her way through the home straight to clinch the gold medal in a spectacular fashion with her personal best of 2 minutes 02.70 seconds. After all the trials and tribulations, this was Gomathi’s first major gold medal at an international event. The run at Doha beat her previous best at the Federation Cup at Patiala where she finished with 2:03.21s.
A daughter of farmers, for Gomathi, who only began professionally running when she was 20, it’s been ten long years of intense struggle. What stands out through her incredible story is the two qualities all the great athletes in the world share—character and conviction. Despite starting her career a lot later than many elite athletes, Gomathi is the name on the lips of all the major sports media publications in India.
It was her friend Shruthi who first inspired Gomathi to take her natural talent to the next level. Until then, for the student of Holy Cross College in Tiruchirappalli, it was all about getting a job and supporting her family as Gomathi was the only one among the three children (one elder brother and sister) of the family to attend college.
Despite having a regular a job at the Income Tax department in Bengaluru under the sports quota, Gomathi managed to take time out to train regularly. Years of intense training helped her reach the final of the 800m event at the Asian Championship in Pune in 2013, where she finished seventh.
Two years later, in Wuhan, China, she finished fourth in the same event. A podium finish was Gomathi’s next objective, but tragedy struck in September 2016, when colon cancer robbed her of her father. A few months later in December, the runner herself suffered a severe groin injury.
“My life turned upside down. My mother went into depression after dad passed away. It was tough to get her to do anything. The whole family was dependent on me,” she told The New Indian Express. Months later, she lost her coach at the national camp to a heart attack.
“I had no one to train me. I had to provide for the family as well,” she adds.
It was two years of agony and hard work before she could train again. In the meantime, she had missed out on major events like the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, but there was no question of giving up. However, at the start of the year, she began participating in national events and qualified for the Asian Athletics Championships with a stunning win in March at the 2019 Federation Cup in Patiala, where her timing of 2.03.21 would have secured a gold medal at the 2017 Asian Championship in Bhubaneswar had she participated.
However, this wasn’t enough for the authorities to select her for the upcoming championship. They asked her to appear for another trial, where she once again proved that her run at Patiala wasn’t a flash in the pan. She had indeed come back to the sport.
“Things have been challenging in the last few years. But I have never had any doubts about my abilities, and that has stood me in good stead. It took a tremendous amount of self-belief and hard work to be able to run the way I am running at the moment. 2019 has been a great year for me so far as this is the best I have performed on the track in the last few years,” she told the Times of India after her impressive win in Doha yesterday.
As fans of Indian athletics, we hope she continues to set the bar higher, winning greater glories for herself, her family and her country.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)