Malappuram: When P U Chitra was nominated as one of the six finalists for the Manorama Sports Star 2017, Kerala’s biggest sports award instituted by Malayala Manorama in association with Santa Monica Tours and Travels, it came as no surprise.
In fact, 2017 was an eventful year for her.
Working her way up to the top by dint of unflappable spirit and hard work, this little girl from the non-descript village of Mundur in Palakkad district has earned the tag - 'Queen of Asia in the mile' - and is currently one of India's top medal prospects in middle-distance running at the international level.
Chitra was a star performer at school meets before she came up with consistent performances at national meets. The frail-looking 23-year-old went on to produce impressive results in the international arena as well, bringing cheer to her poverty-stricken family of daily-wage laborers.
The footage of her gold-winning performance in the 1,500-meter race at the 22nd Asian Athletics Championships Bhubaneswar was one of the widely circulated videos among Keralites last year.
Her omission from India’s IAAF World Championships squad triggered outrage among netizens and the entire Kerala stood behind her to get her justice. Chitra, drawing energy from the love and support extended by her home state, showed the entire world that she was not ready to give up.
In fact, rejections and ill-treatments might have been minor issues for Chitra, for she had overcome far bigger problems earlier in her life. If that was not the case, her career would have come to a premature end in 2011 due to an injury.
Chitra was in grade 9 when she got an opportunity to travel to Cuba to undergo advanced training. There she first exposed to wearing spikes but it proved far too heavy for delicate frame. At that time, her bodyweight was just about 22 kg.
When she returned home after the completion of the training program, she was suffering from severe knee contusions and was forced to undergo treatment for six months. She did not attend classes for two months after doctors advised her to be on complete bed rest. During that period, she had to shuttle between Palakkad and Thrissur every day for availing treatment.
Despite the odds being heavily stacked against her, never once did Chitra complain or give up. Thanks to the moral support of her family and coach N S Sijin, she managed to get back to the competitive circuit in a few months.
The thorny issues she confronted off the track last year were worse than that career-threatening injury she sustained in 2011. Despite winning gold at the Asian Athletics Championships in 1,500m and earning a direct qualification in the process, she was dropped from the Indian team for the World Athletics Championships in London, citing technical reasons. She filed a petition in the Kerala High Court, and the entire state stood firmly behind her in her quest for justice.
Though she received a favorable verdict from the court, it was too late. The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) got away with an unconditional apology, but what the youngster lost was a golden opportunity to brush shoulders with the best in the business.
Despite the ugly politics and all the troubles she had faced in 2017, Chitra was in sparkling form throughout the season. In the 1,500-meter event at national meets, her domination was almost complete. She won hold at the Federation Cup Senior Athletics Championship held in Patiala in June before clinching the yellow metal in the Asian Athletic Championships at Bhubaneswar in July with a career best timing of 4:17.92 seconds.
After settling for a silver at the National Senior Athletic Meet held in Gundur, she bounced back with a vengeance to clinch gold at the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, in September.
In November, she erased a 17-year-old record at the Calicut University Athletic Meet to emerge champion in her favorite event. In the all-India Inter-University championship also, she managed to retain gold. Chitra continued her gold hunt at the invitation athletics meet held in Jakarta two weeks ago, which was a test event for the Asian Games in Indonesia in August.
She is currently undergoing a grueling training program at the national camp in Ooty in order to qualify for the upcoming Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.
If Chithra is your pick for the Manorama Sports Star 2017 award, vote for her in the following format: BST<space>B.
The SMS should be sent to 56767123 (SMS rates apply) in the prescribed format.
For online voting, log on to www.manoramaonline.com/sportsstar.