W Power 2024

Parul Chaudhary: Going the distance

How Parul Chaudhary became the first athlete to win a medal in both women's steeplechase and the 5,000m in the Asiad

Kathakali Chanda
Published: Mar 1, 2024 02:21:33 PM IST
Updated: Mar 1, 2024 02:27:13 PM IST

Parul Chaudhary: Going the distance Parul Chaudhary Image: Mexy Xavier; Directed By: Kapil Kashyap; Outfit: Torqadorn; Jewellery: Roma Narsinghani, Twyla Treasures

Parul Chaudhary | 28

Twenty-four hours after Parul Chaudhary won a silver in 3,000m steeplechase at the recent Asian Games in Hangzhou, she stood at the starting line of the 5000m, freed of the pressures of winning a medal. “Having won a medal already, I just wanted to enjoy my run,” says the 28-year-old. But barely 20m shy of the finish line, she tore ahead, overtook Japan’s Ririka Hironaka, the race leader, in a flash and won gold. And with those lung-busting final strides, Chaudhary earned herself a place in history, being the first athlete to win a medal in both women’s steeplechase and the 5,000m in the Asiad. She also became the first Indian woman to win a 5,000m gold in the Asian Games.

The steeplechase—that comprises 28 hurdles and seven water pits—is a taxing race that wears out most athletes. How did Chaudhary motor herself through another middle-distance course within a day? Because, beyond the finish line was a dream that she had nurtured since childhood. “I knew that if I could win gold, I would be made a DSP in the police force. My family loves that post, and since I was young, I was in awe of the DSP uniform,” says Chaudhary. Now the Meerut girl will get to sport the uniform as she recently received her appointment letter from Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.   

But it wasn’t always easy for Chaudhary, who started running when she was in class 11—she would often come good in national competitions, but return empty-handed from international events. She failed to qualify for the 2018 Asian Games, and when that was repeated in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she contemplated quitting and taking up a job. “Then I remembered the saying that hard work never goes to waste, and decided to give myself some more time,” she says.

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Jaiveer Singh, a former international athlete and the Haryana athletics coach, who has trained Chaudhary since 2021, says she would often practise harder than his male wards, but would trip at competitions. “When I first met Parul, her personal best was 9.51 minutes in steeplechase. We worked on her technique to bring it down,” he says. While Chaudhary would cross hurdles with one leg, leading to quick fatigue, Singh advised her to use both legs to jump over. At the 2023 World Athletics Championship in Budapest, Chaudhary timed 9.15 minutes, setting a national record that also earned her qualification for the Paris Olympics. “The target is around 9 minutes. If she can do that, she will win a medal,” says Singh.

Chaudhary speaks fondly of coach Gaurav Tyagi, who spotted her in Meerut and told her she will do well. “I wonder what he saw in me back then,” she says. “He also told me I will become famous and forget him,” she smiles. “But I haven’t.”

(This story appears in the 23 February, 2024 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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