Tintu Luka won't forget Split in Croatia, the venue of her first sub-2 minute race, (1:59.17) in a hurry. Neither will India's talented 800m runner be allowed to forget her race splits —each of the two 400 m lap-timings — quickly.
You don’t associate audacity with the painfully shy Kerala runner with her oiled hair pulled back into a low ponytail. But fire the start-gun, and she typically bolts off the blocks running an all-out first 400, like there's no tomorrow.
Or no urgent second lap in which she needs to scurry away. A decidedly unconservative runner, the fallout has been that the latter half of her 800 is exasperating. Not to mention anti-climatic for supporters who bring their hopes up, as she sets a scorching pace, and then are a deflated lot watching her implode nearing the finish.
Twice on the televised international stage, during the CWG and Asiad her brazen positive splits (first lap faster than the second) have seemed to backfire as she eventually conceded leads. Opponents unleashed timely kicks to leave the fading Indian look even more abject than her tired, grimacing, figure staggering off the kerb at the end of a lacklustre final sprint.
The glaringly obvious inference is that Tintu needs a strategy-overhaul to preserve energy so she's not left behind to let her shadow run the second lap. Yet, heading into London, India's best two-lapper has doggedly stuck to her race-pace: a no-holds-barred first 57 or 58 seconds, and a diminishing 64, 65 in the second 400. In this, she is indulged and encouraged by mentor PT Usha, a towering figure in Indian athletics who brooks no further argument.
Yet, one must wonder if 36 years down the line, Tintu will replay races in her head, and beat down a welling pang of regret.
Sriram Singh does that often.
In the 1976 Olympic final, Singh, blistered ahead of the pack at the bell though 150 metres later, Cuban Juantorena made his move and led six others to go past the Indian, who couldn't summon energy to mount a finishing burst, fading into the home straight. Juantorena had since met Singh many times, and always thanked his front running for the world record. "A first athletics medal would have been special. But at 500 m the body got tight, and I saw them all go past me. I was always a front-runner, and though I did my best, maybe, I should have stayed back," he trails away. “I’d always suggest we should follow, and then fire the last kick,” he adds.