Lalita Babar’s parents felt dejected after their daughter finished 10th in steeplechase final at the Rio Olympics, but are still very much proud of her.
“We are proud as she represented India at the Olympics and performed in the final. We feel sad for her as she was quite confident and had reached that level fighting against heavy odds,” said Shivaji Babar, her father.
“Though she could not win a medal, she will continue to do her best in future and we will continue to encourage her,” said Babar, who works as a truck driver.
Known as “Maan-deshi Express”, Babar comes from a financially weak family from Mohi village in drought-prone Maan tehsil of Satara district in the western Maharashtra.
“In the absence of proper training facilities in the vicinity and due to hilly terrain, she faced plenty of hardships. She used to practise around the school in our village,” said Babar.
One of the physical training teachers at the village school, Mugut Patole, recalls that Lalita was especially fond of the traditional sport of Kho-Kho at school until she discovered the distance running.
“She used to help her parents in the farm and fearing that she would be late, would run to the school. That made her tough,” Patole said.
Lalita is the first track athlete to qualify for an Olympic final in 32 years. Despite her 10th place finish, Babar’s effort was still the best performance by an Indian in a track event after PT Usha’s fourth-place finish in the 400m hurdles in 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.