Indian athletics is entering an uncharted territory as the country’s middle and long distance runners will be in Bhutan for four weeks for high altitude training as part of preparations for the upcoming Asian Games.
A 17-member Indian team, along with three coaches and a masseur, will train at the Thimphu Track and Field Centre from May 21 to June 20. They are flying into Bhutan today from Bagdogra airport in West Bengal.
The Indian team comprises the likes of Sudha Singh, PU Chitra, L Suriya, Lakshmanan Govindan, Gopi Thonakal, Ajoy Kumar Saroj and Jinson Johnson. They are the second batch of Indian track and field athletes who left the country for foreign training. A 14-member team of quartermilers (both men and women) left for Spala in Poland on May 14.
Bhutan has no athletics credentials — not even in Asia — and is a minnow in South Asia also, but the height of the training centre (above 2500m from sea level), its good synthetic track and the low cost, have attracted the bosses of Athletics Federation of India, and the Sports Ministry has given clearance for the trip.
Interestingly, this facility has an India connection. According to AFI officials, former Indian Olympic Association President Suresh Kalmadi had played a big role in laying the synthetic track at this training centre when he was a member of the IAAF Council. The synthetic track was laid in 2012 through IAAF funding.
This is the first time Indian middle and long distance runners are being sent abroad for training before a big event. They normally train at Ooty and Dharamshala. Ooty does not have a synthetic track while Dharamshala has one.
AFI President Adille Sumariwalla said that Thimphu was an ideal place for training for middle and long distance runners as its height is more than that of Ooty and Dharamshala, and the cost is also not much.
“The training centre in Thimphu is located at a height of more than 2500m while our athletes have been training at below 2000m. So, it will certainly benefit our athletes for the upcoming events. Moreover, the cost of staying and training there is less as compared to training in any other country,” Sumariwalla told agencies.
“Bhutan is a friendly country, in our neighbourhood and Indian officials have helped them some years back in laying the synthetic track,” he said.
Other athletes who will be training in Thimphu are Arjun Kumar, Durga Bahadur Budha, Jeeva Satran Ashokan, Kalidas Laxman Hirave, Pradeep Singh Chaudhary, Sahil Thakaran, Ankit, Chinta Yadav, Meenu and Jhuma Khatun.
“We are looking forward to receiving the Indian athletes at our training centre. The training centre was established in 2012 and we have a very good synthetic track and I am sure they will enjoy training here,” Bhutan Amateur Athletics Federation General Secretary Tenzin Dorji said from Thimphu.
“I personally know Indian athletics officials and I am happy that they have chosen this centre for training ahead of the Asian Games. We would love to help any South Asian country. India and Bhutan are celebrating 50 years of friendship and it is good that Indian athletes chose to train here.”
Athletes from many sports often undergo high altitude training to prepare for a big match or event. Through training at high altitudes, the athletes aim to allow their bodies to produce extra red blood cells. Then, they head to a competition at lower elevations to take advantage of their changed physiology, which last a few weeks.
The effect is said to be most dramatic at altitudes higher than 2500m. It’s particularly beneficial for middle and long distance runners or those competing in endurance sports.
At high altitudes the air is thinner and there are fewer oxygen molecules per volume of air. To compensate for the decrease in oxygen, one of the body’s hormones — erythropoietin (EPO) — triggers the production of more red blood cells to aid in oxygen delivery to the muscles.