'Proud' Anas plays down Milkha Singh comparisons

Muhammed Anas was not even supposed to race. But he ended up qualifying for the 400m final with the third fastest time. He finished fourth, broke a national record, and collapsed smiling, heaving and panting on the nearest chair.

"I'm proud. Very proud that I could race in the final," he says, filling his lungs with short gasps of air. He then takes us by surprise.

"Actually I just ran this race for the feel and experience. I'm hoping to peak in time for the Asian Games," he says, hands to his hips, bending over and breathing hard. It's preparation mode for a sub-45.

The 23-year-old clocked 45.31s in the 400m final on Tuesday, 0.20 seconds shy of the bronze medal winner, Jamaica's Javon Francis. Anas, who traveled to Gold Coast as part of the men's 4x400 relay team, initially hadn't even qualified for the 400m event.

"I wanted a chance in this event and had requested AFI to allow me to compete. Thankfully, they were willing to show belief in me and I could live up to some of it at least."

He is only the second Indian athlete to qualify for the 400m Commonwealth Games final after Milkha Singh. Anas was unaware of this factoid until he read it in the papers this morning. He confesses to have not watched Milkha's 440m yard race from the 1958 Cardiff Games on YouTube either.

"It was not something I was thinking about at all."

It wasn't the first time Anas had followed the legendary great into a feat. In Rio, he became only the third Indian athlete after Milkha and KM Binu to compete in the 400m event.

A steady drizzle which preceded the race left the track soggy and Anas cramping in the final 50 metres. "The rains affected my performance a lot. The track wasn't just coming off well on my spikes and because of the rains and chill I was also cramping."

One of the toughest track events built on maximum sprint speed and substantial endurance, the 400m event calls for both sound techniques as well as good running mechanics. It is torturous on both the mind and the body, with athletes sustaining high levels of lactic acid. An explosive start, driving hard through the first 50 metres, can often be crucial. And it was the start that played on his mind when he took shape at the starting blocks on Tuesday.

Anas had spoken to coach PB Jaikumar on the shuttle to the venue and there was just one advice waiting: Start well, start right. "Yesterday (Monday) in the semi-finals, I had a reaction time of 0.132 so Jaikumar sir asked me to give special attention not let it drop below 0.100 or that I could be pulled out of the race for a false start.

"I was conscious of that today and managed a decent 0.165 today. But I think I slowed down in the last 50 metres, because of the rains and wet track my mind was messed up."

It was a glittering field Anas was up against - Botswana's Isaac Makwala who had finished fourth at last year's World Championships, as well as Jamiaca's Javon Francis, silver medalist in the 4x400 Rio Games. And it lived up to its billing with both winning gold and bronze respectively on Tuesday.

There was fleeting hope that the boy from Nilamel in Kerala would just about stride into the top three. But turning the final bend and heading into the 50m, he started to struggle. "It was the cramps. I think I'll watch the video later and see how I ran."

Anas says it was his father's death that pushed him to take sport seriously.

"It has been a struggle for me to get here. My father passed away when I was in school and that got me to lift myself up and to want to do something with my life. Sport was the answer. I think going to the right coach at the right time (Kerala Sports Council coaxh Jaikumar) helped me a lot."

An under-trainee in the Indian Navy, Anas is mildly concerned that he might lose some pay for taking out a longer break than usual to be here in Gold Coast.

Queried about the what goes through his head before he walks on to the track and what helps him get into the zone, Anas is typically uncomplicated. "Nothing. I just run."