New Delhi, January 10: India's long-distance runner Thonakal Gopi has had an inspiring journey. Hailing from the tiny Wayanad district of Kerala to representing India at the Rio Olympics in the marathon, Gopi has come a long way.
The 30-year-old athlete has set sights on the Tokyo Olympics 2020 and he is working hard to give his best in the upcoming Mumbai Marathon, to be held on January 20. Gopi finished second in 2016 Mumbai Marathon which gave a jump start to his career.
The long distance runner in an Exclusive Interview with Mykhel talked at length about his future goals, India's medal prospects in track and field at Tokyo Olympics, and how the country is taking positive strides in becoming a sporting powerhouse in the coming years.
Here are the excerpts from the interview:
Tell us about your initial days and journey so far.
I come from a family of farmers from the Wayanad district in Kerala and is the only child, I used to help my parents grow rice and ginger while growing up on the small area of land we had. I did my schooling from Kothamangalam. I dropped out of college in my third year to join the Indian Army.
I used to participate in athletics at school and college level but after joining the Army in 2009, I received adequate training and enhanced my skills as a marathon runner. Subsequently, I joined the national camp in 2014-15 where I bagged medals at national level in 5000m and 10000m and that helped me get into the reckoning for the bigger stage.
I trained at Army Sports Institute (ASI) of Pune and represented ASI in the Mumbai Marathon (2016) in which I finished second and qualified for Rio. I was running as a pacesetter in that race. Since I felt confident about completing the race, I carried on and finished second. I won a gold medal at Asian Marathon Championship in 2017 and Gold in 10000m at South Asian Games 2016 in Guwahati/Shillong.
How did the disciplined life in the Indian Army help you improve your skills and stamina?
It has helped me a lot. The training and disciplined lifestyle in the Army definitely helped me improve my stamina. Initially, I hardly knew about the perks of leading a disciplined life, but all that changed after I joined the Army in 2009 and improved as an athlete.
The hard training in the Army makes you mentally and physically strong which helps you get better as an athlete. Now, running feels just like a walk in the park if you compare it with the training that we get in the Indian Army (laughs).
How do events like the Mumbai Marathon, and several half-marathons in India help young marathoners and athletes?
It is very good actually, (it) helps a lot to the athletes as they get an opportunity to test their skills and compete with some of the best athletes in the world. Talking about the Mumbai Marathon, it is one of the best marathon events in Asia. It is a good platform to compete and showcase our skills in front of home crowd.
What are your future preparations?
My main target is the Tokyo Olympics. But there are a few marathon events and championships lined up this year as well. So, they will provide me with ample opportunities to compete with the best in the world and prepare myself for the Olympics. There is Tokyo Marathon lined in the month of March, so that will give a good chance to improve my timings ahead of the Olympics.
Indian athletes bagged 50 medals in track and field events in the Asian Games 2018. It was India's best-ever medal haul in the Asiad. How do you rate the performance and what are our chances in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020?
The government, in the last couple of years, has helped the athletes a lot and it has started bearing fruits now. Athletes are getting every possible help from the government and they are also being sent to train overseas and learn from the best in the world. So definitely, things have improved for us athletes drastically in the last two-three years.
You can say that the best-ever medal haul at Asian Games was a result of the same and future of Indian athletes looks bright. Neeraj Chopra is a bright medal prospect for India and he can definitely bring us an Olympic medal in Tokyo. I feel we have a good chance of bagging at least two medals in track and field in the Tokyo Olympics.
Khelo India has given an opportunity to promote sports at the grassroots level and it also gives us a chance to scout talent at a national level. How do you think such an event is going to benefit kids?
It is indeed a very good platform. We never got such a platform in our childhood nor did we receive such support in our early days. A platform like this will definitely help the youngsters who are aspiring to build a career in athletics. Things are rapidly changing now and credit goes to the government for the same. The Sports Ministry is putting a lot of emphasis on improving things at the grassroots level and scouting young talents early. Events like these will hold us in good stead in the coming years.
What is your message to the young athletes?
My only advice to all the young athletes, who aspire to represent India at the big stage, is that they should keep themselves focussed and take very good care of the way they train. They should train a minimum of three hours daily and focus on their fitness. Most important thing is that whatever they do, it should be done with full dedication and passion.
How has your association with ASICS been?
I associated with ASICS some three months back and I am getting good support from them. The shoes and sporting gear that I am using are really good and comfortable. I would recommend it to other athletes too. The shoe designs are really good and I am sure it is going to help me improve my performance. I am also glad that ASICS is also sponsoring several sporting events in India as well, for that, I wish them all the very best.