Lalita Babar is bracing up for a mighty competition on Wednesday when she lines up in the 3000M steeplechase final, having made a breakthrough for Indian track athletes at the World Championships.
The 26-year-old from Maharashtra set a national record to enter the final of her event on Monday but she knows that won’t be enough amongst a clutch of global stars.
“I am really looking forward to the final. I want to improve upon my performance,” said Lalita, who is the first Indian to make the final of a track event at the Worlds.
Previous Indian finalists were all in field events — Anju George (long jump), Neelam J Singh (discus), Vikas Gowda (discus) and Inderjeet Singh (shot put), with Anju’s bronze in 2003 being the country’s only medal.
“I hope the weather is better in the final. It was very hot in the morning heats. My main aim is to do better than the semis. I also know that the competition will be hard,” said Lalita, who timed 9:27.86 in the semifinal.
The women’s 3000M steeplechase made its first appearance at the Worlds at Helsinki in 2005 and barring the first edition, medals have been decided within the 9:21.00 range. In 2013, Sofia Assefa’s bronze came at 9:12.84. So going into the medal zone looks an impossible task for Lalita, with the likes of Assefa, Olympic silver medallist Habiba Ghribi of Tunisia and Ethiopian Hiwot Ayalew in the fray.
The Indian is also under no illusions on this count. “It is my first World Championships and it was a great experience to run with the Olympic silver medallist in my heats. I was a bit worried at the start. But after having run a race, I am confident that I can do better. I should be able to run around 9:22 in the final, if the weather stays fine.”
A ward of Nikolai Snesarev, a hard task master, Lalita said the coach has raised the bar for her. “He says reaching final is not enough, you have to do even better,” she said. “With everyone’s prayers, I will aim to do just that.”