The 3000 metre steeplechase race in Rio was interesting from an Indian point of view for more than one reason: Lalita Babar shattered the national record clocking a time of 9 minutes and 19.76 seconds which made her the second fastest Asian woman ever, after Rio Olympic champion Ruth Jebet of Bahrain.

Sudha Singh, who was quite obviously struggling with what she thought was ‘viral fever’ at the time finished in a time of 9:43:29. Admitted into the hospital the very next day, she was diagnosed with the H1N1 virus, otherwise known as swine flu.

She recalls, “It was quite an ordeal for me. I could not stand or race properly. I was struggling and had difficulty eating. I was below my best throughout the race.”

The five months that followed were among the darkest of Singh’s career, as she recalls. “I thought I would never compete again. I had spells of dizziness and could barely get off my bed. I thought it was the end of my career.”

She resumed light training in January, and with no Babar present due to her recent marriage, had no steeplechasers to train with. Full training was restarted in March, with the Federation Cup in the early part of June.

She ran in a time greater than 10 minutes at Patiala as Parul Chaudhary in second place wasn’t even close to the 31-year old as she went into these Asian Athletics Championships the clear favourite to clinch a gold medal and a World Championships berth.

In Bhubaneswar, Singh and Parul led the rest of the field for a lap till the latter dropped off the pace. Singh, however, timed herself to perfection, as she was never really made to stretch by any of her competitors on the day.

North Korean Ro Hyo Gyong, who finished second was 80 metres behind Singh at the finish line, as the Indian clocked a sub-10 second timing, her best of the season and in the end, won comfortably as she crossed the finish line in 9 minutes and 59.47 seconds.

Pramod Kumar, one of the managers of the Indian athletic team and a former long-distance runner himself, really appreciates Singh’s mental toughness, “It was difficult for her, given her age. She had no one to train with as well, as she was facing a crisis of confidence.”

Kumar also says it was important for Singh to get back, given her seniority. “She is the seniormost member of the team (women) and also one of it’s finest, whom the other athletes look up to. She should be made captain of the team at the World’s.

In London, Singh will come up against fine athletes such as Jebet, who has the World Record and an Olympic gold medal. Singh, who wants to break the national record in London is focused and not swayed by her gold in Bhubaneswar, “It is all about belief and remaining injury free. Today after a while I am feeling like I am slowly getting back to my best. But I have a long way to go.”