Ranchi: They are fierce competitors on the track but off it, India`s top women runners Preeja Sreedharan and Kavita Raut say they are working together to realise India`s dream of a maiden track and field Olympic medal.
Together with Kerala stalwart Preeja, who won the Asian Games 10,000m gold in Guangzhou, Kavita -- the silver medalist in the same event -- aspires to break the 30-minute barrier which could realise India`s dream of winning a maiden Olympic
medal in athletics.
It`s a realistic dream, asserts Kavita, who at the ongoing National Games beat Preeja twice for the 10,000m and 5,000m titles.
The two top long distance runners are rivals on track but they "work together" to better India`s national record timing -- Preeja`s 31:50.47s effort that won her the Asiad gold.
After switching to 10,000m on her coach Vijender Singh`s advice in the Inter-Railway meet in 2007, Kavita has improved from 37:02 to her personal best of 31:51.47 (at the Asiad).
"It`s achievable. Earlier we never thought of going under 32 but we made it possible in the Asian Games. Even sub 31 timings are good enough for medals at the top level. It`s our hard work that is paying dividends now," Kavita said, referring to Olympic bronze medallist Shalane Flanagan`s timing of 30:22.22 at Beijing 2008.
"I call her Preeja didi... She is an established runner and I`m very junior to her. We have known each other since I joined the national camp (2006). And it`s been a fruitful journey for both of us," Kavita said, recalling the duo`s gold-silver performance in Guangzhou.
In fact, the duo`s rivalry is working out well to better the timing as Kavita insists that they are "not foes".
In both her 10,000m and 5,000m races in the National Games, Preeja led Kavita until the latter took the lead in the last run to snatch the titles.
The 25-year-old Kavita has Tirunesh Dibaba Kenene`s gold medal winning time (29:54.56) in mind.
"I consider her (Dibaba) as my idol. There is something about her that inspires us. The target is to beat them – the Ethiopian and Kenyans who dominate the long distance running."
A little more than 10 years ago, tribal village girl Kavita`s only motivation to participate in an athletics competition was to see big cities like Nashik and Pune.
Fetching water from the only well more than two kilometres from her home, collecting firewood from deep forests would be the order of the day for the little girl of a small village Savarpada, about 90kms from Nashik.
But life has changed dramatically for Kavita after winning the bronze and silver in the Commonwealth and Asian Games respectively.
"I started running barefoot in the school meets where I took part just to see big cities like Nashik and Pune. It was big thing for me. Vijender sir noticed my talent and asked my parents whether they can permit me to join his academy," she
"On October 24, 2002 my journey started as I came to Nashik and began regular training. That date is very special for me as the actual journey for me started from that day," she said.
"After checking my pulse rate, heart rate etc, sir told me to do 10,000m as I competed in my first meet at the Inter Railway in 2007 for a third place finish with a timinig of 37:02. There is no looking back," she said.
She also gives credit to India athletics coach Nikolai Snesarev for the vast improvement in timing.
"He has helped us immensely. If he remains with us, we will definitely improve further and get Olympic medal," she said.
Kavita hails from a small village of Savarpada, with a population of about 700 but the scene has changed back home after her rise to stardom.
She is now the brand ambassador of Nashik athletics and a new road has been built to her village and it has been named after her as Kavita Raut Marg.
Kavita has also bought a row house in Nashik but whenever she gets time she goes to her village where people still go more than a kilometre to fetch water from the well.
"But soon it`s going to change. I heard that a hand pump will be put up in the village soon," Kavita said with a smile.