Asian Games: It Took A While, But Swapna Barman Finally Finds The Right Foot
In her final event, the 21 year old strategized her run perfectly, to bag a whopping 6026 points, personal best score, in the end to become the first Indian woman to win an Asian Games heptathlon gold.
Swapna Barman. (Twitter/ Image)
Anybody who would’ve watched heptathlete Swapna Barman in action at the Asian Games on Tuesday, would’ve been reminded of Anil Kumble. In 2002, the Indian cricket legend came out to bowl with an injured jaw and a bandaged face in a Test match in Antigua. In 2018, Barman, with a bandaged chin continued to compete in the heptathlon event with severe toothache and excruciating pain as she’d landed her chin on her knee during one of the events.
Going into the last of the seven event discipline that happens over two days, the 800m run, Barman topped the standings. In her final event, the 21 year old strategized her run perfectly, to bag a whopping 6026 points, personal best score, in the end to become the first Indian woman to win an Asian Games heptathlon gold.
The discomfort and pain was evident by the end of the day on Tuesday when she was competing in the shot put. But she continued to compete even the following day, topping the javelin event too on Wednesday morning, with a personal best of 50.63m.
The pain she’s endured all her career must have made the 21 year old immune. Struggle and adversity in fact has been a part of Barman’s daily existence in fact. She was born with an extra finger in each of her feet. And then she went and picked an unusual sport to compete in. The extremely challenging and grueling heptathlon. For her homemaker mother and rickshaw-puller father in Jalpaiguri, in West Bengal, it was impossible to contribute in any way to Barman’s athletics career, let alone organize custom-made shoes to fit in her twelve toes.
That means, throughout her career, and in endless competitions, Swapna Barman has had to overlap the little finger of her toe on top of the next finger, and squeeze in twelve toes inside shoes meant for ten toes. Every landing is painful for her, but the events which require her to run, ie the 200m and the 800m, are the worst. She’s resisted the suggestions to get the extra toe surgically removed so far. “She tried custom made shoes made by local manufacturers, but they didn’t last beyond a few days,” her coach Subhash Sarkar says. “She is not a Nike or Adidas athlete, so nobody came forward to help her.”
Barman’s struggles didn’t go unnoticed. Four years ago, there was an online petition requesting Nike to provide custom made shoes with twelve toes for Barman. And while the shoe manufacturers did take her measurements, Barman or her coach didn’t hear back from them after that. In 2017 then, the Go Sports Federation offered to help her, while ONGC also stepped in with a stipend.
Barman, who won gold at the Asian Athletics Championships and the domestic Federation Cup last year, was competing in her second Asian Games. In Incheon in 2014, she’d finished fifth. Her historic and brave effort in Jakarta should help the youngster find some much needed support now. And yes, those shoes too.
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