NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian discus thrower Krishna Poonia has no problem buying a T-shirt for her 10-year-old son Lakshya Raj, but the message he wants emblazoned on it gives her pause for thought.
Poonia threw 64.76 meters in an event in Hawaii earlier this month to break India’s national record but when she spoke to her son by telephone thousands of miles away in Jaipur, all she got was a stern reminder.
“I have promised him I would clear the 65m mark and he called me to remind me that I have fallen short,” 30-year-old Poonia told Reuters from Hawaii.
“I have promised him to achieve it in London so that he can fulfill his wish of wearing a T-shirt which will have ‘Poonia Crosses 65 metres’ written over it.”
Track success at the Olympics has largely eluded India, the country’s two most famous track stars - Milkha Singh and P.T.Usha - missed podium places by the narrowest of margins.
Singh missed a bronze in the 400m at the 1960 Rome Olympics after a photo finish left him fourth, while Usha suffered the same heartbreak 24 years later when she was placed fourth after a photo finish in the 400m hurdles final in Los Angeles.
While the IOC credits India with Norman Pritchard’s hurdles silver medals in 1900, before it gained independence from Britain, the world’s second most populous nation considers itself never to have won an athletics medal at an Olympics.
Poonia saw no reason why she should not dare to dream.
“It’s a realistic dream. All I need is to touch the 65m mark, which should be good enough for a medal,” said the 2010 Commonwealth Games champion.
American Stephanie Brown Trafton was the unlikely winner of the Olympic gold in Beijing four years ago after throwing 64.74m, a distance six of her rivals exceeded that year.
Upbeat about her podium prospects in London, Poonia sounded equally optimistic about India’s next generation of throwers.
“Things can definitely change. I’m getting the required training and regularly competing with top class throwers. Now I know what it takes to win,” she explained.
“It took me a long time to realise all these things. The juniors just need to be disciplined and dedicated. You can afford to miss your studies but missing even a single practice session is not an option.”
Poonia is an example of sacrifice and dedication.
“I have been working really hard over the last 10-12 years. It was not easy to return after giving birth to a son but I never gave anyone a chance to question my dedication,” said the two-time Asian Games bronze medallist, who is coached by husband Virendar.
“I had to make a lot of sacrifices. At times, I don’t get to see my son for months. But of course I’m lucky to have my husband as my coach. After marriage, I was about to quit but he talked me out of it and whatever I’m today is because of him.”
And her son?
“He started taking an interest after watching me win the Commonwealth gold. He understands it and now he insists on that T-shirt.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford