A dope-tainted past she might have but Seema Punia would once again be one of India’s strongest bets for a medal when she hurls the discus one last time at the Commonwealth Games next month.
Seema has been the most decorated Indian track and field athlete in the Commonwealth Games history, delivering a medal each time she has represented the country in the quadrennial event.
Starting from the 2006 edition in Melbourne, where she won a silver, the Haryana athlete has been on the podium in 2010 and 2014, and at 34 she is again a medal contender in her last CWG in Gold Coast next month.
In a nearly two-decade career, Seema has competed in three Olympics (2004, 2012 and 2016), one Asian Games (2014) and three CWG so far and this edition in Gold Coast will be her last CWG. She is also aiming for 2020 Olympics.
“It is going to be my fourth CWG and I am confident I can win a medal at Gold Coast but cannot tell which colour it will be,” Seema, who is currently training at USA, told PTI.
“It has been a long journey. I don’t know whether I will be able to keep myself fit till 2022 Birmingham CWG but I want to keep going at least till 2020 Olympics. I am not finished yet,” she added.
Born at village Khewda in Sonepat district of Haryana, Seema, then with surname Antil, began her athletics career at the age of 11 as a hurdler and a long-jumper but later took to discus throw. Seema had won medals in shot put also.
She came to limelight when she beat then national discus throw champion Neelam Jaswant Singh in 2000 at the Calcutta Open Nationals with an effort of 57.30m.
In the same year, a 17-year-old Seema won the discus throw gold in the World Junior Athletic Championship in Santiago, Chile, but lost it due to a positive drug test for stimulant pseudoephedrine, a drug widely used in medications for common cold.
Under the IAAF rules of that time, there was no suspension for testing positive for stimulants and so she was let off with a warning.
Seema then won a bronze medal at the next World Junior Championships in 2002. She missed out on a final round berth in 2004 Olympics, finishing 14th overall in the qualification round.
In 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, she picked her first medal in a multi-sport mega event by winning a silver but she got embroiled in a doping controversy just before the Doha Asian Games.
According to several reports, she tested positive for steroid stanozolol. Although she was cleared off the charges by Athletics Federation of India, Seema chose not to participate in the 2006 Doha Asian Games, citing the ill health of her father.
She returned from a lean phase in her career in the 2010 Delhi CWG by winning a bronze in India’s clean sweep of women’s discus medals. Her arch rival Krishna Poonia had won the gold while Harwant Kaur took the silver.
In 2012 and 2016 Olympics, Seema was not upto the mark, crashing out at the qualification round each time.
“I don’t have any particular regret as such in my career but the failure to make it to the Olympics final round still rankles me. That is why I want to be in the 2020 Olympics and do well there,” said Seema, who is a sub-inspector at the Haryana Police.
“Otherwise, I have achieved a lot. I am not expecting anything from the government. I am not in the TOP Scheme and I have been denied of any award,” said Seema, who held the national record (64.84m) from 2004 to 2012.
Seema’s only gold in a multi-sport mega event so far came in the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon where she hurled the iron disc to 61.03m.
With a throw of 61.05m at the Federation Cup National Athletics Championships at Patiala earlier this month, Seema has come into a medal reckoning again.
Her caution about the colour of the medal is understandable as Australian Dani Stevens is defending the title she had won in 2014 Glasgow edition at her home ground. The 29-year-old Dani, a former world champion, is the favourite to win the gold in Gold Coast.
Dani has a season’s best of 66.09m. She had won the gold in Glasgow with a 64.88m effort while Seema had won the silver with a throw of 61.61m. Seema is currently second in ranking among Commonwealth athletes this season behind Dani.