Toughened by circumstances, rising middle-distance runner KM Chanda relies on her gut feeling to tackle rivals in a challenging race. The 21-year-old international runner from Alipur village in North Delhi, proved that yet again this week (Monday evening, June 19) at Bhubaneswar’s eight-lane Kalinga Stadium.
During the women’s 800m race of the 62nd National Inter State Senior Athletics Championship, Chanda outduelled more fancied runners, including Punjab’s Harmilan Bains to emerge victorious and seal berth for the Hangzhou Asian Games to be held this year.
The Nationals turned out to be a good outing for Delhi’s runners. Three Delhi athletes advanced to the final of the women’s 200m, while an equal number were in the final of women’s 800m. Shanam finished fourth in women’s 200m, while Simrandeep Kaur was fifth. Riya Chauhan was eighth.
The women’s 800m title went to Chanda. Radha Chaudhar y finished seventh. Lavika Sharma finished eighth and last in the final of the 800m race.
“Good competition in Bhubaneswar will certainly make the young Delhi athletes mentally stronger,” said Dinesh Rawat.
“Competing in quality competition gives an athlete an opportunity to evaluate strong and weak points.”
But it was Chanda who stole the show. Her gold medal-winning time of two minutes 03.82 seconds was better than the Asian Games qualification criteria set by the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) at 2:04.57 seconds.
In the fast tactical women’s 800m final, the second and third runners — Harmilan Bains (2:04.04 secs) and KM Deeksha (2:04.35 secs) also dipped below the Asian Games qualification time. “My next goal is to break the two-minute barrier in 800m,” Chanda told Patriot after winning gold. In a fast tactical race, Chanda got blocked in the opening 300m of the two-lap race. But a heroic effort saw her surge ahead and take charge at the bell (start of the second lap). Thereafter, she pushed hard to open up a small gap between her and the chasing pack, including favourite Harmilan Bains, who was breathing down her neck.
Chanda stayed calm.
With 200m to go for the finishline, she shifted to another gear. It was a long, hard sprint home. She raised her hands in jubilation when she crossed the finish-line to win gold.
What was going through her mind when she took the pole position halfway through the fastpaced 800m race?
“It was hell of a race,” said Chanda. “But I thought I will not give up and continued to push.” Narrating her experience, Chanda said she was blocked as she was jostling for the inside lane.
“I had to run wide in the fourth lane, which means I was running an extra distance, roughly three to four meters, while my competitors were in the first lane and covering less distance,” she explained.
When Chanda shifted to another gear at the 200m mark, Harmilan Bains was the first athlete to respond. Both looked desperate to win gold, but Chanda, it seemed, was more hungry to win than her rivals.
Running a few extra metres in a tactical race like 800m can prove disastrous, says athletics coach Kulbir Singh.
“It takes super efforts to move ahead when no one is prepared to give an inch,” the coach said. Chanda also won bronze in 1500m behind Harmilan Bains and KM Deeksha. “I ran 1500m to test myself,” she added. Chanda’s personal best in 1500m is 4:09.39 secs.
In recent times, there has been a revolution in track and field in India. There are government-run schemes to fund elite athletes to train and practice at the international level. Private sponsors are also generously supporting several top athletes.
Athletes have access to sports psychologists, dietitians and masseur. But Chanda has none!
It’s only when she is practicing in the national camp in Bengaluru, she says she gets good facilities. Otherwise, she can only afford to have two square meals a day.
Chanda is the eldest of four siblings. The family has been hardpressed as her father has been unwell for a long time. Lately he has been diagnosed with tuberculosis. Her mother does odd jobs.
Chanda has been lucky to have the support of Delhi government athletics coach Kulbir Singh. “Without his (Kulbir Sir) support, things would have been a bit challenging for me to continue running.”
Right from sports kit to running shoes and diet money, her coach does it all. Kulbir first came in contact with Chanda in the 2018 National School Games’ track and field meet in Meerut.
“She (Chanda) had an awkward running style but was rough and tough. I was impressed with her attitude on the playground,” recalls the athletics coach. “I invited her for practice and she agreed.” According to the athletics coach, he tried longer events like 3000m and 5000m but Chanda eventually settled for a two-lap race.
“She is good in the middledistance events, particularly 800m,” the coach explained. Employment with Indian Railways last year came as a relief but life remains hard.
“Last August, I got a job in Indian Railways through sports quota but the salary is not good enough to support my parents. I also have to spend money on my sports kit,” said Chanda.
Despite hardships, Chanda has made gradual progress. She won her first international medal, a silver in the women’s 1500m at the 2019 SAF Games in Nepal.
Chanda’s personal best in 800m is 2:01.58 seconds clocked in May at a domestic meet in Ranchi. The national 800m record of 1:59.17 is in the name of Tintu Luka, which she clocked in 2010.
During the Covid-19 pandemic she practiced in the nearby parks in Alipur to keep herself fit.
“It was the most difficult phase of her young sporting career,” Kulbir Singh added.
She again emerged better in the post Covid-19 season in 2021.
In 2022 she won two gold medals (800m and 1500m) during an invitational track and field meet in Kazakhstan. It further established her reputation as a formidable runner.
Chanda will take a couple of days easy as she is nursing a heel injury. Her next stop is July 12 to 16 Asian Athletics Championships in Bangkok, Thailand.
“She is a fighter on and off the track. Hopefully, she will give her best in Thailand,” the athletics coach said, adding that the Asian meeting will be a good dress rehearsal for the Asian Games starting September 23 in China.
A gold medal in the 800m will ensure she gets an automatic qualification to the 2023 Budapest World Athletics Championships in Hungary starting July 19.