Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Avinash Sable: On the right track

Avinash Sable ended the Kenyan reign on steeplechase podiums at the 2022 Commonwealth Games and won the silver medal for India. His feet are now running towards 2024 Olympic Games in Paris

Rucha Sharma
Published: Feb 20, 2023 12:23:18 PM IST
Updated: Feb 20, 2023 06:01:02 PM IST

Avinash Sable: On the right trackAvinash Sable Image: Selvaprakash Lakshmanan for Forbes India; Outfit: H.O.T.S MAN; Stylist: Vaybhav Acharya; Hair and make up: Glow up diaries

Avinash Sable | 28
Track and field athlete

 
With just 534m to go in the finals of the 3000m steeplechase event at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) in August 2022, Avinash Sable overtook two Kenyans at the final water jump much to the surprise of everyone. He was in contention for a silver, beating defending Commonwealth champion and two-time world champion Conseslus Kipruto.

The stadium in Birmingham came alive and Indians watching the event on television back home waited with bated breath to see if he could win a gold. The last few moments were nerve-wracking. Eventually, Sable, 28, created history by becoming the first non-Kenyan since 1994 to bag a silver at the steeplechase event.

What was the athlete from Mandwa, a small village in Maharashtra’s Beed district, thinking in those moments? “There was only one thought: I have to perform and be the best,” he says.

Sable could never give winning performances in distance running at the junior or state levels. After finishing class 12, he joined the Army to financially support his family and got a spot on the Services side to run cross-country events. It was in 2017 that he changed tracks that eventually led to him winning medals for the country.

Sable was posted in Hyderabad at the time. He used to observe steeplechase athletes and imitate their hurdle jumps. Amrish Kumar, an Indian Army coach mentoring long-distance athletes, spotted the youngster and encouraged him to switch to steeplechase. Sable never looked back.

Before experiencing the high at CWG, Sable had to go through the low of the 2022 World Athletics Championships at Eugene, Oregon, where he finished 11th. “My focus was on following the race and, in the last lap, reaching the first group (running for the medal). But nothing like that happened because the race was too slow,” recalls Sable.

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At CWG, he was determined to not repeat the mistake of simply following. He took the lead in the first lap and set the pace. Kenyan athlete Abraham Kibiwot overtook him, but Sable pounced in the last lap to seal the second place. “The mind is set to perform at your best even before the race starts. We train so hard for this. People who support us and our coaches who train us expect us to do well. That’s motivation enough to give my best,” says Sable, who holds the national record of 8:11.20, the time he set at CWG.

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“When you consider that Sable’s CWG silver came weeks after he finished 11th at the World Athletics Championships, just over six seconds behind the gold medallist Soufiane El Bakkali, you have to realise how that result channelled his inner beast. To see him claim the silver at the CWG shows what Sable is made of,” says sports journalist and author Jamie Alter, who is also an actor and chat show host. “Hopefully, his compatriots, those around him and those aspiring to become athletes take a leaf out of his book and say, ‘I want to be like Sable’.”

“In sports, especially in a country as diverse as India, where the system often does not support dreams, to see an athlete like Sable achieve so much in 2022 should hopefully inspire other Indian track and field competitors to aim higher,” adds Alter.

Avinash Sable: On the right track

Sable is confident of qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics. “The Olympics qualification standard is 8:15.00, and I will definitely qualify. It is not that difficult. But the main focus will be about building confidence—via Diamond Leagues, World Championships and Asian Games—that I can win an Olympic medal. That is why this year will be extremely important,” says Sable.

(This story appears in the 10 February, 2023 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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