Making to the Olympics. P. Naganathan of Tamil Nadu will be part of the 4 x 400 relay team (Pic: Courtesy dtnext.in)
Baptism by fire is the apt description for what P. Naganathan went through to make it to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics 4 x 400 relay team!
Naganathan could not afford to buy a pair of shoes so thinking of professional running shoes was anyway out of the question, yet he ran, ran barefoot! Neither poverty nor hardships could stop him from reaching where he has today.
At present employed as a constable in Greater Chennai Police, Naganathan earlier had sweated as a labourer on construction sites as well as during his vacations in order to help his family meet ends. While his father, Pandi is a farm hand in Singapuliyapatti in Ramnad district, his mother is Panchavarnam, and they have four children.
Recalling those days for The New Indian Express, he said: “When I began running races in school, I couldn’t afford shoes. So, I ran barefoot. When I made it to district sports meet, my school gifted me a pair of shoes.”
Take a leap in time with Naganathan all raring to go, sorry run as a part of the 4 x 400 relay team in Olympics. His other mates in the race are Arokiyaraj from Trichy, Mohammed Anas from Kerala and Amose Jacob from Delhi.
The change in fortune has not made the constable who used to race cars as a child, to forget his days of struggle. He chose to study history for his BA as he was unable to afford an engineering course. In in the course of an interview, he told dtnext.in: “Since we all took up science in school, my father could not afford the fees. So, I opted for BA in History in college for which I only had to pay the exam fee which would later get reimbursed.”
Thanks to his running ability, in 2017, Naganathan became a part of the Armed Reserve as a constable on sports quota during his final year in college. "I decided to take up the job since it would help the family financially," he told dtnext.in. He came into the limelight when he won the gold at the All India Police Meet in 2019. In the same year, he went on to pick up the CM’s trophy at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
Despite his job in the police force, Naganathan’s monetary situation has not changed much since he pays half of his salary as EMI towards a personal loan which he took to meet the needs as an athlete. "I pay Rs 5,000 towards the family's expenses every month. After that I am left with Rs 10,000 which is just enough to cover food and fuel needs for the month," he revealed to dtnext.in
Participating in the Federation Cup held in Patiala in February, he secured the second position and this got him the invite to join the Indian team. Following 45 days of strenuous training, he was selected for the final four.
As a sportsperson, Naganathan simply wanted to participate in a big sports event and when he received the news about his participation in the Olympics he had been on cloud nine for the last two days.
Talking about his selection to represent India, he remarked: “Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would get an opportunity to participate in the Olympics. I owe much of my success to my police coach Prabhakaran, the Chennai Police Sports Incharge, and sub inspectors Paul Dominic and Sivalingam.”
Prabakaran, who is also a police constable as well as a Grade 1 Coach is the one who honed Naganathan’s skills as before that he never had the opportunity of getting guidance and coaching from a professional coach.
Dominic, who himself is a seasoned hockey player and sports in charge of Chennai City Police team, recounted for dtnext.in his meeting with Naganathan and Prabhakaran two years ago. “These youngsters were so promising but were yet to get the encouragement they needed. Despite their posting in city police, they took time out for training (which is extremely difficult) and have proved that all the support we gave them, despite facing opposition, has paid off. After many years, Chennai police is producing an Olympian.”
Dominic shared another important nugget of information. Naganathan is only the second police personnel from Greater Chennai to participate in Olympic games after three-time Olympics medal winner Ranganathan Francis.
Francis aka Aranganathan represented India at international competitions and won three gold medals in the 1948 Summer Olympics (London), 1952 Summer Olympics (Helsinki), and 1956 Summer Olympics (Melbourne).