Swapna Barman created history by winning the women’s heptathlon title at the 18th Asian Games. Swapna’s triumph in the women’s heptathlon is the first ever gold for India in this event at the Asiad; she posted a score of 6026 points. Wang Qingling of China scored 5954 to take silver while Japan’s Yuki Yamasaki produced her personal best of 5873 to bag the bronze medal. Purnima Hembram, the other Indian in the fray, finished fourth with 5837 points.
She did not just overcome 10 other athletes to win the heptathlon gold in Jakarta on Sunday. The list of obstacles she jumped over is long. Her father, a rickshaw puller, suffered a stroke when she was a kid and has been bed-ridden since. Her mother, a tea-estate worker, supported the family and was also entrusted with taking her to practise sessions.
Swapna was born with six toes on each foot, meaning she had to wear customised shoes — something she could not afford. All her life, she has trained in pain thanks to shoes that weren’t an ideal fit. As if all that wasn’t enough, she came down with a tooth infection just before the Asian Games and competed in the gruelling event with a tape on her right cheek to reduce the pain.
Despite all this, she confirmed India’s first-ever gold in the event, something that looked inevitable on Wednesday morning when she built up a healthy lead over her nearest competitor — China’s Qingling Wang — with just the 800m event left. She finished fourth in the final event, but that was good enough for her to finish on top of the pile.
After the final, Barman said she could do better if someone provided her with customised footwear. “I use normal shoes worn by people who have normal five toes. It really pains during training. It is very uncomfortable, whether I wear spikes or normal shoes,” she said.