On Friday (Saturday morning, IST) Avinash Sable broke the men's 5000m national record, making history of sorts - he currently also holds the national record for 3000m steeplechase and the half marathon. That's not all - Friday's race, at the Sound Running Track Meet at San Juan Capistrano, California, was only the second time he'd run the 5000m distance competitively.
Sable clocked 13.25.65, eclipsing Bahadur Prasad's long-standing record of 13:29.70 in 5000m, set in 1992.
Why it is so special?
It's a rare achievement for an athlete to hold multiple national records in separate disciplines. Although part of athletics, steeplechase, Sable's favoured event, is essentially an obstacles race while 5000m is a long-distance running discipline.
Sable made his debut in the 5000m only this year at the Federation Cup, and ended up finishing first, setting a new meet record of 13.39.43, which was a lot better than G. Lakshmanan's record of 13:47.28, set in 2018.
Before the Federation Cup, Sable set the current national record in steeplechase at the Indian Grand Prix 2 in Thiruvananthapuram, with a timing of 8.16.21.
"We were planning to field Avinash in both 3000m steeplechase and 5000m in Asian Games, as he has a medal chance in both events," Indian athletics chief coach Radhakrishnan Nair told PTI.
Avinash Sable's journey
Hailing from the village of Mandwa in Maharashtra's Beed district, Sable has become one of India's best runners over the course of the last four years. Growing up in a family of farmers, Sable never had the ambition of becoming an athlete. He wanted to be in the Army, and he joined the force after finishing class 12.
Posted as part of the 5th battalion of the Mahar regiment, Sable served and fought in the extreme conditions of the Siachen glacier. Wanting to take a break from the rigorous nature of his duty as a soldier, Sable started to take an interest in sports.
It was only in 2015 that Sable joined the Army's athletics programme as cross-country runner. His natural talent was spotted by coaches and within a year, Sable helped Services finish first in the team competition and he finished fifth in the 2017 National Cross-Country Championships.
Despite impressing as a cross-country runner, Sable made the switch to steeplechase. "I would always be interested in the steeplechase race. It seemed more interesting to me. I would try to copy their (the Services steeplechase athletes') movements and one day when I was doing jump training along with them, I was noticed by the Army coach Amrish Singh. He then suggested I become a steeplechase runner too," he told ESPN.
The decision proved to be a masterstroke. In 2018, at the 58th Open National Athletics Championships in Bhubaneswar, Sable broke a 37-year-old national record in steeplechase, clocking 8:29.88. Since then, he has bettered his own national record seven times.
Sable has been training under Amrish Kumar and had stints under former national coach Nikolai Snesarev. In 2021, an emotional Sable braved Snesarev's death at the NIS Patiala campus and set a new national record. He later penned an emotional post on social media, writing "Sir, I was away from you for two years but was following every rule of yours. I was practicing what you taught me... you used to say my age is 72 years, but yet I will take a risk for you. ... How much ever I write will be less for you."
At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Sable set a then national record of 8:18.12s. He finished seventh in his heat and could not make it to the final.
National record in half marathon
At the 2020 Delhi half marathon, Sable shattered the old national record of 1.03:46 by nearly three and a half minutes. It was only his third half marathon of his career then, having trained for the event for only a month. He only took part in the competition because he needed practice as part of his Olympics training. There were hardly any competitions during that period due to the COVID-19 pandemic.