She burst into the limelight with her gold medal winning performance at the Commonwealth Games and bettered it with two golds at the Guangzhou Asian Games held recently. Ashwini Chidananda Akkunje Shetty, who is now being perceived as an icon and has become a household name in Udupi, Dakshina Kannada districts, was also awarded this year’s Rajyotsava Award. The girl from Kundapur claims India can do better in sports provided it adopts better sporting standards. Excerpts from the exclusive interview of Ashwini Shetty conducted by Ashish Rao:
1. Since when had you been putting your efforts in winning a gold at a major event?
Since the past 10 years I had been striving to become an athlete. I have grown with keeping in mind great sportspersons like P T Usha, Ashwini Nachappa and Rosa Kutty. So I began my athletic career at a young age and since then have been steadily practicing.
2. During the race what was going on in your mind when you were just about to cross the finish line?
During the race I was thinking that I must win the race. I was only focused on finishing first faster than any other athlete. Especially during the hurdles and relay our mind was aware about the tough competition from countries like Tajikisthan. Since the last two decades our country had not won any medal. So everyone wanted us to win a medal for India.
3. Where did you train for Asiad and CWG and how did your coach, Mr Yuri train you?
For CWG most of the training was held at Patiala. But we also traveled abroad to Ukraine since it is very hot during the summer months here in India. Our coach Mr Yuri's workout is really world class. Many of his students are competitors at Olympics and the world cup. He has been training athletes since 2 decades.
4. What was your early career in Athletics like? What age did you begin?
In my initial days I was ignorant about sports and did not compete much. Only when I met coaches I decided to compete. I began first running at age of 13 when I joined a hostel at Delhi. After that in the year 2001, I competed in my first national event. After that I became serious and wanted to race in international competitions. Athletics as a sport was difficult earlier and it continues to be difficult today as well.
5. How is the standard of the Indian Athletic coaching camps?
As far as India is concerned the standards are just fine. But if you compare our facilities with European and Chinese athletes our infrastructure needs a lot of improvement. Also, we have to upgrade our nutrition levels to a large extent. We have to also get exposure to compete with European athletes. Right now we only compete at Asian level. If we get international exposure, our standard will improve.
6. According to you what was unique in your coach who made you win medals?
Our coach is a confident person. He always speaks very encouraging words and believes in us. He keeps the hopes alive and says that we can do it. During coaching he points out weaknesses and knows everything in us.
7. Did you have enough time to prepare at Ghuangzhou and are they more advanced than India in providing facilities?
Since we had gone there a month in advance we got used to the weather conditions. Yes, Chinese have much better infrastructure, like many athletic grounds. They provided us with the best, training equipments and sports items. They are very systematic in their approach. Their coaching is also world class.
8. How have your parents supported you, early in your career and now?
My parents are extremely supportive, they have always advised me to do well. Even when I began athletics, they encouraged me to work hard. They have taught me believe in myself and god. I was away from them for over a year.
9. During the CWG and Asiad what was your most difficult moment and why?
Since CWG was held in Delhi, pressure was too much and during the relay we were only guessing who would win the race. Even during the Asiad, Mandeep was fighting for the gold and these moments were difficult.
10. Compared to CWG, has your mind set and confidence improved and how will it be in the future?
There wasn’t much exposure before the CWG. But after CWG and Asiad, my confidence has improved as we got a lot of exposure. This is one of the reasons I got gold in the hurdles event. I had fallen while practicing for hurdles and so we concentrated more on relay event. After that I improved my technique and thus won a medal.
11. Do you think our nation has too high an expectation when it comes to Olympics and how are you upgrading your training plans?
In sports, winning and losing is part of the game. After medals at Asiad, our fans have lot of expectations on Olympics. But we have to attend more European events, work harder and concentrate on winning. Now, we have a one month break for our bodies to rest, but after that in January we will start our camp at Patiala and practice hard.