India’s winning streak at the 23rd Asian Athletics Championships in Doha continued even on the fourth day as Kerala athlete PU Chitra bagged gold for India in the women’s 1500m race on April 24. Chitra’s victory was clocked at 4 minutes 14.56 seconds. This win also enabled Chitra to qualify for the upcoming International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships in September. During the 2017 Asian Athletics Championships in Bhubaneshwar as well, Chitra had won gold.
After the race, Chitra told news agency IANS, “I had become a little nervous towards the end being next to the Bahraini runner (Tigist Gashaw). She had beaten me to third place in the Asian Games. I had to really push hard in the end.” With this, India bagged three golds in the championships.
Life marked by struggle
The 24-year-old’s performance at the field has stunned everyone time and again. Born on June 9, 1995, at Mundur in Kerala’s Palakkad District, Chitra is the third of four children of Unnikrishnan & Vasantha Kumari, both of whom are daily wage labourers who perform menial jobs to make ends meet. Fighting all odds, Chitra won many state, national and international medals in track and field events.
Chitra’s life has been marked with severe hardships as sometimes, her parents were unable to find any work and were forced to survive on leftovers. Reportedly, Chitra even had to sleep empty stomachs on many occasions, however, that did not stop her from practising early in the morning at her government school.
Chitra’s coach Sijin N S had told The Indian Express, “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.”
Chitra in controversy
Chitra’s name was engulfed in controversy in 2017 after the IAAF rejected the Athletics Federation of India’s request to include PU Chitra in the Indian squad for the World Championships.
The AFI had requested to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to consider Chitra’s inclusion in the team. The Kerala High Court had even asked the central government to allow Chitra to participate in the prestigious event. In a Public Interest Litigation, Chitra had said that her gold-winning performance at the 2017 Asian Athletics Championships automatically made her eligible for the World Championships.
Following her exclusion, the hashtag #IsupportChitra went viral on Facebook with scores of leading personalities, including Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan rooting for the runner. Former track great PT Usha has faced heavy social media backlash after she said that Chitra’s performance was not up to the standards.
True grit and determination like this is truly commendable. While Chitra has proved her mettle in various fields, both national and internationally, she still has a long way to go. The Logical Indian lauds the start runner for her outstanding achievements.