Avinash Sable has been a name to watch out for in Indian athletics with a string of record breaking performances in his forte 3000m steeplechase event that qualified him for the postponed Tokyo Olympics.
The 26-year-old distance runner improved on his national record thrice in 2019 while peaking at the right time at the World Athletics Championships in Doha. As pace of the races played a big role in deciding his national record timing of 8:21.37 seconds — over seven seconds improvement on his personal best before the Worlds — Avinash showed he is capable of running with the biggest of names.
However, winning an Olympic medal is still a long shot, especially in a fast race as he needs to be 20 seconds quicker than his best effort in order to challenge the star names such as Conseslus Kipruto, Lamecha Girma and Soufiane El Bakkali.
And getting close to them surely requires some high-level training and competitions but in present COVID-19 scenario, getting both certainly is a premium. As far as training is concerned, Sable did sweat it out at a crucial high-altitude location in Ooty, followed by Bangalore, during the lockdown at AFI camps with coach Amrish Kumar. It's now the lack of quality competitions that bothers him.
"Training in Ooty was really beneficial for me as I got to work on technical aspects like crossing the hurdle, endurance training with my coach," Sable told Indiatvnews.com. "However, lack of competition is really worrying and I hope big tournaments will begin soon in the new season as they are vital for my Olympics preparations. Of course training will prepare me well but I need to compete in good events to know where I stand with my Olympic competitors."
In 2019, steeplechase was already excluded from the World Diamond League calendar which now leaves Sable to target the World Athletics Continental Tour Gold Level meetings. The schedule of such gold level meets for 2021 are yet to be out but they normally take place in May-June.
It is also worth pointing out that it won't be easy for Sable to find a spot in such events given the stiff competitions and lesser number of berths available. As it stands, Asian Athletics Championships in Hanghzou (China) in June 2021 seems to be the only confirmed option for Sable at the moment, given he is willing to travel to China.
However, before competing at the bigger stage, there is dearth of competitions in India itself due to the pandemic. And that's the very reason Sable didn't think twice when Airtel Delhi Half Marathon came calling as he was eager to compete again after such a prolonged gap.
"It wasn't a difficult decision to come here as I was really eager to compete. The men's foreign elite athlete section has some big names and I am looking forward to see my competitive time in half marathon in comparison to them," said Sable.
The annual ADHM comes at a time when the national capital is enduring its third wave of COVID-19 and the cases continue to surge. However, Sable said he felt secured with the safety measures taken by the organisers, who have only allowed elite athletes to compete this season, and felt he could run on Sunday with a free mind when he competes with defending champion Shrinu Bhugatha for the title.
Sable, who will head back to SAI Bengaluru after the event and is expected to be quarantined before resuming training again, had an interesting short training stint in Morocco in February under coach Rizky Boubker while sharing track with someone like World Championships bronze medallist El Bakkali. The runner wanted to go back for another camp to the Moroccon coach but lockdown ended all his plans.
And with health safety at risk, Sable said he is comfortable training under his Indian coach in Bengaluru for the Olympics as long duration of stay outside India could expose him to the virus.
"Of course foreign training is beneficial. In Morocco, I was getting to train with elite athletes under a big coach. But the present situation doesn't permit to go and train outside India for a long time. That's why I am happy to train with the facilities to me by AFI and SAI," said the TOPS athlete.