J.J. Shobha speaks about her prospects at Athens in a chat with V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM
FROM THE Railway Recreation Club Grounds (Secunderabad) to the 2004 Athens Olympics--- a journey which J.J. Shobha, the 26-year-old South Central Railway clerk, is bound to cherish for a long time . By virtue of her record-breaking performance in heptathlon (scoring 6211 points eclipsing the previous National record of 6186) in the just-concluded Federation Cup athletics in Delhi, this gangling athlete qualified for the Athens Games to be only the second one till now from Andhra to make the trip after shooter Gagan Narang.
And, no better person than Shobha herself to share the feeling of achievement and tell what exactly has been going through her mind in recent months and what are the plans ahead of the Olympics. She spoke to The Hindu MetroPlus from her on-going camp in Patiala immediately after qualifying for the Olympics.
On the eve of the Federation Cup what was your first priority - winning the heptathlon gold or qualifying for the Olympics?
I was always confident of making to the Olympics given my preparations after winning the gold in the inaugural Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad last October. But what I was determined was to achieve it with a national record and I am really happy that I could do that in style.
Normally, the tendency of most of the Indian athletes will be to be satisfied by the mere fact of participating in the Olympics and not really putting that extra effort. How different will your approach be?
Let me be honest. I have to improve a lot in shot put, javelin and high jumps. I say this even after setting a new National record. I am conscious of the fact that the existing performances are well below the international levels. And that I will have to really work hard over the next four months with the first objective of sustaining the decent run and at the same time try to improve in all the six events of heptathlon.
But, do you feel that you can do that if you continue to train in the national camps and with the not-so satisfactory competitive domestic circuit?
Precisely for this reason, I will be training in Ukraine for three weeks from April 25 once this national camp concludes in Patiala. There I will be under the watchful guidance of Yuri. I had the privilege of working with him during brief stints in coaching camps and he is a wonderful coach. I hope to be a much better athlete in the coming months under his tutelage.
What are the other grey areas of concern for you?
Physical conditioning is one segment, which needs greater focus. There would be no dearth of commitment from my side on this count. For, I am fully aware of the fact that qualification for the Olympics is in itself doesn't happen too often. And, at the same time I do think of life after Olympics and that is the reason why I want to produce something special.
Given the mental block of most of the Indian athletes at this level, how do you plan to overcome this?
Karanam Malleswari continues to be a great source of inspiration. The name and fame which she won by clinching the only medal (bronze in weightlifting) in the 2000 Sydney Olympics should not only spur me but many others to achieve something really big.
Don't you see a possibility of caving in to the high expectations by virtue of mere qualification?
What I wish to clarify is that I am not going to state that I will come back with a medal come what may. The point which I am making is that I will not be found wanting for putting efforts. I was always confident of qualifying but I realised the big objective of making it with a national record is simple proof that I can translate my goals. No doubt, for many of us an Olympic medal may be an elusive dream. But, I dare to dream and what is wrong in that?
If you look back, what could be the most defining moment, which made you think about Olympics?
The gold in the Afro-Asian Games. It gave me lots of confidence especially since it came when I was in the recovery phase after a serious injury after the 2002 National Games.
The plain fact that I won the gold piping South African Robbson Justine and Soma Biswas gave me great satisfaction and the desired fillip to my career. This was certainly a significant performance after the Busan Asian Games bronze.
Any other factor, which had a big influence on you career till now?
The trip to Italy last year where I finished 12th in an invitational meet in heptathlon was another major morale-booster as I trained and competed in the company of Soma Biswas.
How difficult was it for you to migrate to the city from Karnataka in 1996 and still be a star in your own way?
Somehow, there were never any inhibitions. I have been getting wonderful support from one and all. Special mention should be made of my coach Srinivasa Rao and also Railway coach Rami Reddy Sir. And, I sincerely thank the Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu for creating the sporting atmosphere and primarily creating a mood of self-belief among sportspersons that the performing stars will be taken care of.
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