From the minute she landed in Chennai after winning the 800 m gold at 23rd Asian Athletics Championships in Doha, Gomathi Marimuthu has been profusely thanking her Akka.
Her Akka, P. Francis Mary, a woman SI with the traffic wing of the Chennai city police, was seen standing beside her at the airport in traffic police uniform. Many did not know her then.
Recalling their first meeting, Ms. Mary said she beat Ms. Gomathi to come first in two events for the Chief Minister’s Trophy in 2011.
“People in the stadium criticised Ms. Gomathi saying that she lost to an older woman who had children. She was too young and unable to accept the defeat. Upset, Gomathi wept and I consoled her saying she will win a lot of gold medals in world championships,” Ms. Gomathi’s mentor recalled.
Since then, Ms. Mary has been part of Ms. Gomathi’s family. She started mentoring and motivating her. They travelled together across the country.
Three years ago, Ms. Gomathi lost her father Marimuthu and coach Gandhi to illness.
A minor injury kept her away from the sport. She was removed from the Indian team on medical grounds. “I insisted that she should not give up. After much persuasion, she came back,” Ms. Mary said.
Both were from poor families but were encouraged by their fathers to pursue their dream of winning medals for the country. Ms. Mary gave up athletics due to injuries but she did not want Ms. Gomathi to suffer the same fate. So she encouraged Gomathi to work hard, helped her with strategies and shaped her personality. The results are there to see — a gold at the Asian Athletics Championship.
“Gomathi is a world class athlete. She has a good job with the Income Tax Department, yet she is humble,” said Ms. Mary, hoping that Gomathi would win a gold in the Olympics.
When asked about the “tattered shoes” worn by Gomathi during her gold medal run that went viral on social media, Ms. Mary said they were good quality shoes.
“Since the pair was two years old, she had stitched and used them. There are sentiments attached to it. We have ordered a new pair. It is yet to reach her,” said the traffic SI.