India's veteran marathoner, hawaldar Ram Singh Yadav was truly a man on a mission in Mumbai on Sunday. After almost a year of meticulous planning that culminated in an almost 'top-secret' movement of location 48 hours before the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, he finally got his hands on to something that eluded him four years ago at this very venue.
Ram Singh finished the Mumbai marathon in 2 hours, 16 minutes and 59 seconds -- well within the IAAF prescribed 2:18 'B' standard qualifying mark for this year's London Olympics -- to emerge the fastest Indian in the ninth edition of the Mumbai Marathon.
Considering his experience at the Mumbai event -- Ram Singh has won a hat-trick of Mumbai marathons (2007, 2008, 2009) besides finishing second in 2010 and 3rd in 2011 -- he has always been the 'go-to' man for anyone and everyone associated with the Mumbai event. This often disturbed his concentration in the run-up to race day.
So this time, Yadav came up with an ingenious plan to avoid all the unnecessary attention. "All top runners are put up in five-star hotels by the organisers, and so were Ram Singh and a few of our other boys. However, Ram Singh wanted to be left alone since a day before the gruelling race, the body needs complete rest. But he would not have got that at the plush hotel where there would be media interviews, photo sessions, social interactions etc.
"So, we decided that we keep his room at the star hotel, but instead move him out to some place near the race starting point. So, we booked him into a small hotel (Vijay Niwas) where he spent the last two days before the race in complete rest," added Singh.
In a hard-to-believe sight, Ram Singh's colleagues, Jeetendra Kumar Gupta and Bipul Saharia showed MiD DAY around the Rs 690-per night, non-air conditioned, 4 x 8 room at the two-storey Vijay Niwas hotel, in one of the by lanes opposite the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (starting point of the race).
The room's super tiny size notwithstanding, it was equipped with just one bunk bed (single bed on top of another) and a narrow cot, and shared by four army men -- Ram Singh, Jeetendra, Bipul and another colleague Jitesh Kashyap. There was no toilet in the room either, with the quartet having to make do with a common washroom on the second floor of the property.
"Despite being our senior, Ram Singh Sir wanted to sleep on the floor, as there are only three beds, but we forced him to sleep on the bed as his body would have hurt had he slept down, and this could have hampered his chances of winning the race," Jeetendra told MiD DAY.
"The public eye and media glare can be very distracting. Look at what happened to last year's winner (another army man, Bining Lyngkhoi). He was inundated with interview requests and other interactions right up to last evening, as a result of which he got no rest and today finished a poor 19th," added another army official.
Four years ago, he breasted the tape here in 2 hours, 18 mins, 23 seconds -- an unfortunate THREE seconds outside the required 2:18.20 to make it to the 2008 Beijing Games. This time round however, friends of the Uttar Pradesh-born, Hyderabad-posted and Pune-trained runner told MiD DAY that he was always the favourite to win here, given the meticulous planning that had gone into his campaign.
"Ram Singh has not participated in a single competitive race for nearly a year now, and has been clocking great timings at practice. His sole purpose of this was to qualify for the London Olympics through the Mumbai Marathon," subedar DK Singh, a former national runner, now one of the coaches associated with Ram Singh at the Artillery Centre Hyderabad told MiD DAY yesterday.
Ram Singh spoke his heart out at the post-race press conference: "I've been working hard to make the Olympic berth since 2004 and was heartbroken at missing out narrowly in 2008. I received no support thereafter from any one, so from then on, I decided that I will only run for myself and my family -- not for my country.
However, now that I've made the Olympics, I will try and do India proud," signed off Ram Singh, who later took his kit bag and went back to the five-star hotel he was originally booked in.