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Ashwini Akkunji Receives Dhyan Chand Award For Lifetime Achievement In Sports

As Indian Olympian athlete, Ashwini Akkunji receives the Dhyan Chand Award for Lifetime Achievement in Sports, let's take a look at her life.

Indian Olympic athlete, Ashwini Akkunji C, is all set to receive the Dhyan Chand Award for Lifetime Achievement in Sports and Games 2022 this 30th of November. This prestigious award will be given to her by the President of India, Droupadi Murmu at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

But who is she?

Ashwini Akkunji, or Ashwini Chidananda Shetty Akkunji, was born in the Siddapura village in the Udupi district of Karnataka. Growing up in a family of 5, the youngest member’s journey into sports, was not an easy one. But she knew this was what she wanted to do- running. Her rustic, open village was the perfect setting for the beginning of her career.

Her father, B.R Chidananda Shetty, who was a farmer by profession, remembers recognizing his daughter’s talent, and passion, when she came first in a running event in her fifth standard. Thus, began his long search for a proper sports school that would help the young Ashwini to realize her dreams.

The school run by the Department of Youth Services and Sports at Vidyasagar was chosen. From here, she launched herself into the national circuit.

In 2004, she was picked up for a scholarship-based programme at the esteemed Tata Athletics Academy in Jamshedpur. She specialized in 400 m hurdles sprint.

A star is born

The 2010 Commonwealth Games were hosted by India. Akkunji was part of the 4×400 m relay race team alongside Manjeet Kaur, Sini Jose, and Mandeep Kaur that won the gold medal. She had a significant contribution in the clinching of the first position.

In the third lap of the relay race, she managed to recover a distance of 10 m which eventually decided the fate of the race.

Soon, a couple of months later, at the 2010 Asian Games held in China’s Guangzhou, Akkunji shone ever brighter. In what is remembered as the most memorable Asian Games campaign till 2010, she was part of two events; 4×400 m relay race, and 400 m hurdles, and bagged a gold for both.

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The win in the former event was expected, but Ashwini’s stellar gold performance in the latter event took every one by surprise.

This back-to-back winnings shot her to stardom in a very short period of time. She was the new golden girl of the country.

Akkunji had her future road ready, and was looking forward to the 2012 London Olympics when the worst tragedy in a player’s life, struck her, point-blank.

Challenging times ahead

Before leaving for the Asian athletics Championship in Kobe, Japan, dope tests were conducted for all the participating athletes on 27th of June 2011. Eight players failed the test, including Ashwini Akkunji, and her relay teammates Mandeep, and Sini. Naturally, they were all removed from the squad. Akkunji had tested positive for methandienon (an anabolic steroid).

In the following year, the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) rejected her pleas of innocence, and banned her for 2 years.

Later, she opened up about how the supplements, that were necessary to take, were the real culprit. Without blaming anyone, she expressed how the lack of right means or medium to check the contents of their supplement intake had brought about such a situation.

The girls’ coach, Yuri Ogorodnik, had taken the blame and were by the players’ side always. Although it was unfortunate, and not really due to any fault of theirs, Ashwini had a tough time subsequently.

Following the ban, she was made to leave her sports hostel, and was restricted from all kinds of sporting facilities. Her countrymen’s outlook towards her changed overnight. She was looked down upon, and treated as criminals.

Next step forward

Ashwini Akkunji, however, has always been optimistic throughout her life. Hence, despite all odds, she kept practising throughout her exile. When her ban lifted in 2013, she went back to her rigorous practise.

Within 2 weeks, she made her way back into the team when she ended second in her selection trials for the 2013 World Championships in Glasgow. And with her sheer grit, she made it to the 2014 Commonwealth Games squad.

After a brief stint due to her injury, she accompanied the Indian entourage for the 2016 Rio Olympics as a part of the 4×400 m relay race team. Throughout the following years, she has had a low-key career graph.

Although her comeback after the doping scandal hasn’t been an impressive one, she was appointed as coach by the Sports Authority of India in 2018, where she currently works.

Ashwini Akkunji’s life is what sports represents; it has its own highs and own lows. Even though her sports career didn’t exactly span out the way she had wanted it to, she holds no grudge. And it is nothing short of an inspiration.

Let bygones be bygones. I believe in moving forward. The doping ban is now a closed chapter in my life. I learnt vital lessons. I believe everything will be good from now on.” 

Image source: Maharashtra Athletics Association, edited on CanvaPro

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Akankha Basu Roy

The author is a Gen-Z kid who resorts to writing to vent out about the problematic ways of the world. Having majored in Theatre, English, and Psychology, I take a guilty pleasure in complex read more...

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