For Swapna Barman, the wait to get back into competition post the IAAF World Championships in London last year has been a long one.

Returning from injury, Barman finished runner-up to Purnima Hembram in the women’s Heptathlon at the Inter-State Championships held at the end of last month in Guwahati. She finished with 5725 points on her return, below her personal best of 5942 points.

The 21-year-old is non-plussed about the performance and says her immediate aim was to qualify for the Asian Games. “I wanted to qualify for the Asian Games and that was achieved. I was injured for most of the year and resumed training recently.”

She also stressed on the need for more competitions and possibly, more athletes going to Europe to participate in smaller meets. “Here we have only three, the Federation Cup, the Open nationals and the Inter-State. There in Europe, every country has dozens of small competitions where athletes keep competing and improving.”

Barman shot into the limelight after her victory at the Asian Athletics Championships in Bhubaneshwar in 2017, which sealed a spot at the World Championships. Her personal best also came at the meet, where her High Jump mark of 1.87 metres was higher than the 1.84 metres that fetched the gold in the individual High Jump competition.

At the World Championships, Barman says her ongoing injury troubles hampered her as she finished 26th with a total of 5431 points. “My ankle and back have been injured since 2015. I had very little time to recover and it reflected in my performance. Now, I am fully fit after having recuperated.”

The heptathlete from Jalpaiguri in West Bengal started with her preferred event, the High Jump, on seeing the youngest of her brothers try it back home. “In 2011, I was jumping 1.20 to 1.30 metres. On seeing all the other women try out different disciplines in training, I was tempted to do so too.”

Initially rejected by her present coach Subhash Sarkar for being ‘too short’, Barman’s gold at the 2012 School Games in the High Jump brought her back into contention. “After I won the gold there, sir (Sarkar) selected me and I was accepted into SAI where I train now.”

Since returning though, Swapna says that she has tried to concentrate on the events that she needs to improve in. “The 800 metres – I don’t like it very much and my 200 metres dash is also not good,” she laughs.

She continues, “I have not practised the High Jump since I returned. I need to get back to my best in other events. In the Long Jump, since I stopped competing, I have never jumped below 5.50 metres but in Guwahati, I managed only a 5.48 metres.”

This will be her second Asian Games after her first appearance in Incheon four years ago, where she finished fifth as a 17-year-old. Ekaterina Voronina, who had won the event with 5912 points had also gone to win the Asian Athletics Championships in 2015 before Swapna won the crown.

The third year Physical Education student at Kolkata University has also received guidance from JJ Shobha, the Indian heptathlon record holder with 6211 points. “Shobha di keeps talking to me from time to time and advising me to keep my performance up. She told me that I could break her record.”

Shobha came up with possibly the grittiest of performances at the Olympics in 2004, where the Karnataka athlete was carried off injured in the Javelin Throw, the penultimate event of the Heptathlon. Shobha finished the final event third and 11th overall with 6172 points, just short of her personal best and was awarded the 2014 Arjuna for it.

For Swapna, Shobha’s record is within touching distance and although the Asian Games might be too early a return, there is no doubt that the heptathlete, who was once rejected for her height, is bound to scale new highs if fit.