CHENNAI: When Rezoana Mallick Heena clocked 53.31 seconds to win 400m gold — her first international medal at the junior level — on the opening day of the Asian U-20 Athletics Championship in Yecheon (Korea), halfway across the world her coach Arjun Ajay was beaming with pride in Bengaluru. That the 16-year-old won gold came as no surprise to him to the extent that he was focussing more on her timings.
Arjun expected Heena to finish at 52.5-52.7, but he understands the reasons behind the extra half-second. After all, Heena was up at 5 am in the morning on Sunday (local time), and Arjun by 2 am Indian time to be in constant touch with her. It was the first time he had not been with her during a meet. “The thing is the hotel is one hour and 15 minutes away. After finishing in the morning, she had to go back to eat and sleep. She came back in the evening again, so three hours and 45 minutes she had to travel before the final. A senior athlete can manage that but some restlessness will be there for the junior athlete that is why she caught up a little stiff in the end,” Arjun told this daily from Bengaluru.
Having scouted the sprinter through social media from a small town in Nadia district of West Bengal, Heena had been training with Arjun since November 2021. The duo has worked together since then, with her training largely happening in the hill station Ooty, Tamil Nadu. Why Ooty, the challenges that come with the altitude, the pure air and lesser local travel compared to the metro cities. Considering her young age, Arjun has kept her training light and not pushed her too hard and too fast. “Since she is young, we just ask her to enjoy the race. We have to take into consideration the age of an athlete, body, speed and strength, sprint mechanics, correcting the footing, ground contact, arm action, core strength, etc. We try to keep the training light and smart, focussing on the specifics.”
The interesting bit here is that contrary to how her talent was spotted — via Instagram — Heena has been away from not just social media, but her mobile phone in itself since she started training with Arjun. “Initially, it was difficult. She likes reels, movies, etc. So much so that she blocked me on WhatsApp to ensure I don’t notice if she stays awake late. Then we spoke to her parents and decided not to use phone when training. Her parents call me to speak with her. YouTube videos of races, movies we watch as a team apart, she is completely off social media,” said the coach.
While Arjun always expected her to win gold, having brought down her timings to 52.98 with their training in Ooty, he strongly believes that if he was there at the meet, she might have been even more quicker. He even expects Heena to better the record in the inter-state meet. Meanwhile, Bharatpreet Singh clinched gold in discuss throw and Antima Pal won bronze in the women’s 5000m race as India finished Sunday in the second spot with Japan taking the top position (3 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze).