PU Chitra Gives India Third Gold, Defends Her 1500m Title

Written by , MA (Journalism & Mass Communication) Chaitra Krishnan MA (Journalism & Mass Communication) Experience: 5 years

How many of us follow cricket? The answer would be “yes” for at least three out of five people. But if the same question was asked about other sports or athletics, probably just one person will agree to it. While we worship monopolistic sports like cricket, we forget to give heed to athletes and other sports persons who rightfully deserve our attention and encouragement. This lack of public interest plays a key role in the stunted development of athletic camps and their resources in our country. However, as more athletes like PU Chitra prove India’s capability in international games, we can hope to see a change in this unfair pattern.

Kerala’s PU Chitra became a sensational name in the history of Indian athletics when she bagged gold in 1500m race at the 23rd Asian Athletics Championships that took place in Doha, Qatar. With this victory, Chitra got India its third gold in the Championships. The first two gold medals were won by Tejinder Pal Singh Toor in men’s shot put and Gomathi Marimuthu in women’s 800m race. Also, Chitra defended her 1500m title with a spectacular timing of 4 minutes 14.56 seconds in the event that took place in April, early this year. She had won the yellow medal in the 2017 edition of the Championships that was held in Bhubaneshwar finishing within 4 minutes 17.92 seconds.

The nail-biting climax of the race saw a determined Chitra overtaking Bahraini sprinter Tigest Gashaw only a few seconds before she crossed the finished line at the Kahlifa Stadium. “I had become a little nervous towards the end being next to the Bahraini runner (Gashaw Tigest). She had beat me to third place in the Asian Games. I had to really push hard in the end,” Chitra told a news agency after the race.

Chitra’s victory helped her qualify for the most-awaited International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships which will be held in September. The 24-year-old athlete’s sheer determination has won the hearts of people from all over the world. However, the track wasn’t the only place where Chitra had to struggle her way to victory. Let’s take a look at Chitra’s journey to international athletics from a family of agricultural laborers.

From Rags To Race Track

Image: Twitter

Palakkeezhil Unnikrishnan Chitra was born in 1995 to Unnikrishnan and Vasantha Kumari, who are agricultural laborers from Kerala. She is third among the four children of her parents and was born and brought up in Mundur, a small town in Kerala’s Palakkad district. Her parents are daily wage earners who try hard to make ends meet by working at menial jobs. Whenever it became too difficult for them to find work, the whole family suffered a severe financial calamity. They would survive on leftovers and reportedly, Chitra had gone to bed many times on an empty stomach. Even during those hard days, she would wake up early in the morning and go for practice at the government school where she studied. While fate challenged Chitra in innumerable ways, she sprinted through them with her determination.

Sijin N S, Chitra’s coach told a leading newspaper, “She opted for athletics training in school. I knew that she was not from a well-to-do family but despite the difficulties, she was always committed to training. She had the kind of drive I had not seen in other athletes her age.” We agree that it’s her commitment-driven attitude towards life that made the 24-year old girl a world-famous athlete today.

Chitra’s Controversy With AFI

Image: Twitter

Even after her gold-winning performance at the Asian Championships in 2017, she wasn’t included in the 24 member team for the World Athletic Meet 2017 which was held in London. This lead to a mass outcry in Kerala during which the then Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s sought the help of the Union Sports Ministry regarding the issue. When the ministry expressed its helplessness, Chitra’s coach Sijin took things to the court.

The court asked AFI and the Union Sports Ministry for a detailed report on the selection procedure since the petitioner claimed that it wasn’t a transparent one. During the hearing, AFI told the court that the deadline for submission of the names at the World Athletic Meet expired a few days back. However, the pressure from the public as well as the high court pushed the authorities to request Chitra’s inclusion in the meet.

Adille Sumariwalla, the president of AFI posted a detailed letter on the official website of AFI to give an explanation on the exclusion of three athletes including Chitra. “Her performance dropped significantly after AAC2017 (Asian meet) at Inter-state event & timing was not better than even Indian junior national record timing,” he said in the letter.

Despite all these controversies and problems, Chitra now has an overwhelming fan base and she’s all set to run towards her future goals. Poverty and controversies are hurdles that she leaped over on her track to success. Let’s all learn a thing or two from Chitra’s journey and never let the hurdles weigh us down.

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