Santhi Soundarajan, the 26-year-old ace Indian middle-distance runner, was very excited, not to say a little nervous, too, that she had made it to the grand finale of the 800m at the 2006 Asiad in Doha. She may have won accolades back home—the previous year at a national meet in Bangalore, she had won gold in the 800m and 3000m steeplechase, and silver in the 1500m—but this was a much bigger, grander, and tougher arena. She also knew this was her golden chance to prove that she was one of the best in Asia.
Her lissome, ebony figure shimmered on the television screen—her dark hair slickly bundled up with prim precision, and her gangly, but muscled, arms waving to the cheering spectators as her name resounded in the atmosphere. As was her style and strategy, she ran the first lap unhurriedly, though close on the heels of the frontrunners, reserving her adrenalin for a final cheetah-like burst. But as the last 100m neared, she was still trailing behind. Perhaps she had mistimed her rhythm. And then came her characteristic explosive surge, albeit a tad desperate this time, as her angular yet graceful frame powered towards the finish line. She had probably fired her last cylinder a little too late for the gold, but it was just about good enough for her to edge out her second nearest rival in an electric photo-finish.
The final burst took the wind out of her sails as she collapsed immediately after breasting the tape. She lay prostrate for quite a while not knowing if she had won bronze or silver. She was too exhausted to think about anything, although she was glad that she was in the reckoning for a medal. When it was announced that she had won silver—even if by the skin of her teeth—her exhaustion sublimated into joy.
It was celebration time. Journalists and photographers mobbed her. Images of her looking up from her prone position were splashed across the media, as were pictures of her victory ceremony. The then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu M Karunanidhi announced a cash prize of Rs15 lakh. A few public sector organisations chimed in with job offers.