A dream that turned into a nightmare. That has been the experience of Gomathi Marimuthu, the 30-year athlete from a tiny village in Tiruchi who made the headlines twice in the space of a month. First when she landed the gold medal in the 800 m in the Asian championship in Doha to demand the attention of a nation which was pre-occupied with the election matters and IPL excitement.
Adulations and rewards were spontaneous and poured in. Why, a popular cine star from the Tamil Industry even dispatched a cheque for Rs 5 lakh from his shooting site as his special award, moved by the economically poor background of this Tiruchi native.
Hardly had everyone sat back contended that here was a champion in our midst than came the shocker of a news, Gomathi had been tested positive for a banned drug and thus was provisionally suspended from the sport. Worse, not only would she lose the medal she won but faces the prospect of a four-year ban from athletics which for this ageing athlete could turn a death-blow to her sports career.
Doping is not new to sports and particularly athletics. In fact, whenever the term doping comes up the first picture that comes to mind has to be the Canadian, Ben Johnson, whose rise to stardom lasted a few seconds in that famous 100 m race in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. A 9.79 s effort left many dazed the world over and some experts even labelled that as the run of the century. Nobody had seen anything amiss then except excellence at its peak until the truth came out: he was tested positive for doping. The world which had hailed him as the best immediately turned around to say the Canadian had brought shame to the sport.
Gomathi's is in a smaller level but the charges were the same. Still what made things different for this athlete was the way her background had been played around in the media. Though employed in the Income Tax, still Gomathi came from a family which had little means for a good living. Toil was the watchword at home. One report even suggested that her father would sacrifice his food by taking cattle fodder to ensure Gomathi's diet is never affected. Inspired by a friend, Gomathi was keen to make a mark in athletics and that kept her going and dreaming.
And then came the tragedy of her father's death and soon after her coach too passed away. It needed iron will to sustain a career with these blows but Gomathi went on. How will a girl from this level have access to prohibited things and even more could it be possible for her even think of such a step were the kind of questions that many doubters would have had.
Who indeed would have thought that this girl, whose race in Doha, if any body had seen had all the trappings of a strong-willed athlete pacing her steps so well make it to the finish with such aplomb. The way the commentator described it, it would seem as though he had almost fallen off his seat! So excited was he too!
There was relief on her face post the run. A feeling perhaps that she had finally made the mark after two disappointing Asian Championships in 2013 and 2015. Two years ago when the Championship was held in India, she was in the injury list. At age 30, Gomathi knew if her dream was to come true, it had to be now and how! Alas, that dream lay shattered and shamed if the positive test for drug remains true finally.
Sports can be cruel, more so in a field like athletics where the struggle and toil can be endless. A slice of luck helps and that is what every athlete craves for finally. Ask P T Usha or Anju Bobby George, both outstanding names who decorated Indian athletics history with their deeds. With a little luck, Usha could have added an Olympic medal to her rich collection.
And as Anju experienced, with a little luck her silver medal won at the IAAF world athletics final in 2005 turned gold after 9 years when the actual winner was disqualified! Aiming high is the fundamental right of any sportsperson but the path to glory has to be on the right lines. There is no short cut to success and poor Gomathi unwittingly has proved an example for this.
Now it is not as though Gomathi is accepting these adverse charges. She pleads innocence and even suggested that all news of her wrong doing is fake and should not be taken seriously but what has come forth have been even more damning. She was reportedly tested positive even in the Federation cup which was considered the trials for the selection to the Asian championship and for the same substance called norandrosterone, a steroid.
Why this report did not come out before this Doha championship is a mystery that is mocking athletics officials. For if it had, Gomathi would never have been to Doha and this drama could have been avoided. Whatever happens from here on, only time will tell if Gomathi would be able to get out of this sordid episode that has not only brought shame to her but the country too.