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 on Sunday from Bagdogra airport in West Bengal, according to a news agency report.
The Indian team comprises the likes of Sudha Sing, PU Chitra, L Suriya, Lankshmanan Govindam, Gopi Thonkal, 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 Dharamsala. Ooty does not have a synthetic track while Dharamsala 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 Dharamsala, 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 said.
“Bhutan is a friendly country, in our neighbourhood and Indian officials have helped them some years back in laying the synthetic track,” he said.
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.