From tragedy to track honours: Jharkhand teen Supriti Kachhap aces Khelo India 3000m race

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On a foggy December night in 2003, a toddler Supriti Kachhap along with her four siblings and mother was waiting for her father, Ramsewak Oraon to return home in their village Burhu in Gumla district in Jharkhand. Oraon, who was the village medical practitioner, had gone with four other villagers to a patient’s home in a nearby village. The following day the villagers found their dead bodies riddled with bullets by Naxals and tied to a tree.

On Thursday morning, as 19-year-old Kachhap created a new Athletics Federation of India national youth record with a timing of nine minutes and 46.14 seconds going past the earlier mark of nine minutes and 50.54 seconds in the girls’ 3000m race in the Khelo India Youth Games in Panchkula, mother Balmati Devi could not control her tears.

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Supriti toh chal bhi nahi sakti thi jab iske pita ji ko Naxals ne maar dia tha. (Supriti could not even properly walk when her father was killed by the Naxals). To support my children has been a struggle for our family all these years. She loves running and always tells me that if her father was alive today, he would have been proud of her achievements. We know he has been watching over her from the skies and when she returns home, we will keep this medal at our home in village Burhu,” says Balmati while talking with The Indian Express from Gumla.

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Post Oraon’s death, Balmati would get a job as a fourth class employee in BDO office in Ghaghra and the family would shift to the government quarters in Gumla. A young Kachhap would often run with other colony kids at the ground in the complex before she was enrolled in the Nukrudippa Chainpur School.

While the youngster would run on the small mud track at the school in her initial years, a shift to St Patrick School, Gumla on a scholarship would see her training with other athletes. It was during an inter-school competition that Kachhap was spotted by coach Prabhat Ranjan Tiwari and the coach took the youngster under his wings at the Jharkhand Sports Training Centre in Gumla in 2015.

“We often go to inter-school competitions to spot tribal talent as they are very good in terms of endurance naturally. Kachhap would compete in 400m and 800 m earlier but when we undertook her sprint and repetition tests for long distance running, her heart rate would not shoot up and would remain between 120-140 beats per minute during races. Initially, I made her run in 1500m before shifting her to 3000m events as we wanted her body to adjust mentally as well physically to the long distance events,” shares coach Tiwari.

The youngster idolises national 3000m steeplechase record holder Avinash Sable and wishes to make the country proud one day. (Express Photo by Jaipal Singh)

In 2016, Kachhap would reach the final of the girls 1500m race in the Junior National Athletics Championship in Vijaywada before she would graduate to 3000 m events at the state and national level. In 2018, the youngster was selected to the SAI middle and long distance Academy in Bhopal and would train under former national silver medallist Pratibha Toppo.

Kachhap’s first medal at the national level would come in the national Cross Country Championships in Mathura in 2019, where she won the silver medal in the 2000m run. The same year, the youngster won the bronze medal in the 3,000m race in the National Junior Athletics Championship in Guntur where she clocked a timing of nine minutes and 53.85 seconds.

Steady improvement

The last three years have seen Kachhap winning silver in 3,000m with a timing of ten minutes and five seconds in National Junior Athletics Championship at Guwahati in 2021 apart from bronze medals each in 3,000m and 5,000m events in Junior Federation Cup in Bhopal the same year.

“Since we focus only on long distance events, we were impressed by Supriti’s endurance levels in such events. She lacked a bit of speed initially. So we had to work sprints, muscle memory and increase her running mileage per week. From making her run close to 80km per week, we increased it to 110-120 kms per week. She needs to gain more weight according to her body for targeting medals at the senior level in coming years and can be a bright prospect for the 2026 Asian Games,” shares Toppo.

Prior to Khelo India Youth Games, the youngster had competed in the women’s 5,000m race in the Federation Cup Senior Athletics Championships at Kozhikode, Kerala, where she clocked a timing of 16 minutes and 33 seconds against a qualifying mark of 16.40 minutes for the U-20 World Athletics Championship to be held in Columbia in August this year.

The youngster idolises national 3000m steeplechase record holder Avinash Sable and wishes to make the country proud one day. “Avinash sir too comes from a poor family and has been a role model for me. Whenever I need motivation, I see his competition videos on youtube to inspire me and hopefully I can win medals for India one day. I don’t remember seeing my father but I would like to dedicate this medal to him,” shares Kachhap.

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