When PU Chithra spoke to a media channel earlier this month, from the venue of the Asian Championship in Bhubaneshwar, the 22-year-old was beaming.
The Palakkad native, dressed in a blue and white jersey, was elated at her own performance that broke her previous records. She had bagged the gold medal in the women's 1500m. This was to be her direct ticket to the World Championship to be held in London from August 4 to 13.
Days later, however, Chithra finds herself knocking on the doors of the Kerala High Court after she was excluded from the list of the 24-member team from India to take part in the World Championships in London. Her coach Sijin VS has moved an urgent writ petition at the HC.
Her exclusion came as a rude shock for Chithra, who hails from Mundur, a quiet village in Palakkad. The news of her exclusion found her at Ootty, where Chithra is currently undergoing a training camp, in preparation for the World Championships.
Speaking to TNM over the phone, Chithra says that her exclusion was least expected and has dampened her spirits.
"I had performed my level best at the Asian Championship and had won the gold medal, despite the unfavourable weather conditions during the game. And I was told my gold medal would be my direct ticket to the WC in London. When my coach Sijin informed me that my name is not on the list of participants, I was devastated. It was a setback, that was least expected," Chithra says.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and state Sports Minister AC Moideen are exerting pressure on the Centre to get Chithra's name included in the list. Commenting on it, CM Pinarayi said that Chithra's exclusion was condemnable and unjustified. Following this, the Union Minister for Sports Vijay Goel said on Tuesday, that he will intervene in the matter to get justice for Chithra.
Chithra and her coach Sijin, have now pinned their hopes on the Kerala government that it would exert enough pressure to send her for the Championship. The reasons for her exclusion are still beyond Chithra.
"Nobody from the Athletic Federation of India (AFI) spoke to me in person about not sending me to the championship. But I heard from my coach that the selection committee was of the opinion that my performance was not up to the mark according to international standards and that the chances of me winning a medal were bleak. But I had performed my best at the AC and I had promised myself that I would give my best in all the future games I would take part in," Chithra says.
Chithra with her coach Sijin
On July 20, she had even gone to Chennai on the instruction of the AFI, to initiate proceedings for her visa. Chithra had returned home the same day, not expecting any roadblocks to come in her way.
From a small village in Kerala, Chithra moved her way up the ladder over the years. Daughter of a daily wage labourer couple, Chithra has always understood the financial constraints of her family and never complained when she lacked proper facilities for training. Chithra is the third of four children of Unnikrishnan and Vasanthakumai.
A student at Mundur Higher Secondary School, at the age of 13, Chithra chose sports over other interests.
Her coach Sijin is the Physical Education teacher at the school and has been training her since Class 7.
"When I was in Class 7, I was intrigued by senior girl students taking part in sports events and took part in school competitions. It was some two years later that I began to win medals. Since my Class 9, I don't remember winning anything less than a gold medal," Chithra said.
Despite her family's financial troubles that made it nearly impossible for her to follow a proper diet during coaching, Chithra never complained.
"Unlike others, I wasn't able to follow protein diet during my training. I realised it was difficult for my parents to provide that for me. But they did whenever they could with their meagre income," Chithra said.
The reason for exclusion?
Although Chithra is unable to comprehend why her name was not on the list of participants, her coach Sijin feels that there was more to it than meets the eye.
The 42-year-old coach told TNM, "The selection committee had people like PT Usha and Anju Bobby George. If they had taken a stand for Chithra, she would now have been in the team. But there was no one to speak for Chithra, nobody to support her at all."
While Sijin believes that the CM, Sports Minister and Palakkad MP MB Rajesh supporting Chithra will help her cause, he said that he could not wait for it indefinitely.
"The team is to leave the country on July 27 and there's hardly two days left for us to sort this out. So we are knocking on all doors," coach Sijin said.
He has also refused to buy the selection committee's argument that Chithra's performance was not up to the mark.
"When she won gold at AC, every media outlet reported that it was her direct ticket to WC. If there indeed had been a cut off for WC, why didn't any member of AFI clarify that?" Sijin asks.
He also feels that Chithra being coached by a physical education teacher at school may have worked against her.
"May be this is an ego issue. I am merely a school teacher and not an acclaimed coach. She trained under me all these years and gave her best. May be that's why they didn't want her in the team. Who knows?" Sijin said.