Santoshi Shrestha first Nepali woman to win athletics gold

Kathmandu, December 3

Santoshi Shrestha created history today in Nepali athletics after she became the first-ever Nepali woman to win an athletics gold medal in an international meet when she finished first in the women’s 10,000m race in the 13th South Asian Games here at Dasharath Stadium.

Shrestha clocked 35 minutes and 7.94 seconds to win the gold medal. Kanchhi Maya Koju had bagged silver in the same event in the 10th edition of the SA Games in Colombo in 2006 with a timing of 35:03.43.

Shrestha crossed the finishing line just a milli-second ahead of Indian runner Kabita Yadav, who overtook the Nepali athlete with around 100 metres remaining. Shrestha, who led the pack from the beginning before being left behind by the Indian runner, pushed herself ahead at the last moment and was able to bag the historic gold medal with her personal best timing eclipsing the previous mark of 35:49. Sri Lanka’s Nilanthi Lanka finished third in 35:59.02.

“I can’t believe that I bagged a gold medal,” said Shrestha. “It was a tight call and I was not sure whether I was first. I asked my coach and there was a huge cheer from the crowd but I did not believe that I had won till my name was flashed on the scoreboard,” she added.

Shrestha said she came a long way to reach the stage. “I struggled a lot and played in adverse conditions. Looking back to the days when I came to Kathmandu alone and stayed with brothers, I feel proud with what I achieved today,” she said. “I am grateful to all those who supported me in my difficult journey. I quit job and gave up studies two years ago to focus on running. I put in a lot of hard work to achieve this. I used to read motivational stories whenever I felt low.”

Shrestha became the fourth Nepali athlete to win a gold medal in the regional sporting extravaganza after Baikuntha Manandhar, Tika Bogati and Rajendra Bhandari — all in marathon. Manandhar won three consecutive gold medals in the first three SAF Games, while Tika Bogati won a gold in the seventh SAF Games in Madras in 1995. Manandhar still holds the record of the best timing — 2:15:03 — in a marathon for a Nepali set on his way to completing the hat-trick in Kolkata.

Bhandari had bagged two golds in 5,000m and 3,000m steeplechase events in the 10th SA Games in Colombo in 2006 but he was stripped off the medals after he failed doping tests. After serving a two-year suspension from the sport, Bhandari came back strongly and won marathon gold medal in the 11th SA Games in Dhaka in 2011. But the event was changed to road race because of an error in measuring the distance.