Bangladesh’s 400m sprint hope Zahir Raihan and fellow sprinter Abu Taleb failed to participate in the final of the event yesterday, owing to breathing problems and high pulse-rates due to the high altitude of Kathmandu, raising serious questions about the Bangladesh Olympic Association and Bangladesh Athletics Federation’s preparation and planning regarding the 13th South Asian Games.
Zahir, Bangladesh’s best in this discipline and one of the medal contenders, finished his heat in second position, third overall in the two heats, clocking 48.20 seconds at the Dasarath Rangasala which was much slower than his personal best.
However, during the last 100m metres of his heat, the 18-year-old looked completely out of breath, just managing to finish the race before falling down in a heap.
The same fate was endured by Taleb, who finished the heat in eighth position. Both were taken to the Blue Cross Hospital adjacent to the venue, where local doctors and Bangladeshi representatives said they were not in a condition to participate in the final, which was about an hour after the heats.
“They [Zahir and Taleb] have breathing problems. His [Zahir’s] pulse rate is above 100, which is much higher than normal. It happened due to the high altitude. We cannot release them right now,” said Dr Pawan Rawal, a medical officer of the emergency section of Blue Cross Hospital.
Lying on the hospital bed across the street of the venue, Zahir was pleading with his coaches and officials to let him take part and not deprive the country of a probable medal. But the officials and coaches were helpless. Coach Abdullahel Kafi wiped away tears as he spoke to journalists.
“It is unfortunate that our athletes could not even make an attempt in the final. I was helpless,” the coach said.
The problem of breathing due to high altitude was a direct result of the lack of conditioning time for the Bangladesh athletes, who just arrived here on the night of December 1.
Most of the members of the Bangladesh contingent from across the disciplines have faced issues with breathing, but some have come ahead of time to acclimatise with the conditions. For example, the swimming team came to Kathmandu two weeks ahead of their schedule and rented a swimming pool to get used to swimming in 25-metre pools as opposed to the 50m ones they are used to swimming in back home.
Bangladesh’s South Asian Games’ training and development secretary AK Sarkar claimed that they asked all the federations whether they needed to send their teams to Nepal ahead of time.
However, Bangladesh Athletics Federation’s general secretary Abdur Rakib Montu, a day before the event, had said that they did not want to send the team ahead of time or send a big contingent as he felt they would disappoint anyway and it would create backlash.
Two Sri Lankan athletes later won the gold and silver medals in this discipline while the bronze was won by an Indian athlete.
Sri Lanka also grabbed gold in the women’s 400m where Bangladesh’s two participants, Sumi Akter finished seventh while Sabiha Al Soha failed to finish her sprint due to breathing problems.
The Sri Lankans, following disappointment in the 100m sprint, were beginning to sweep the gold medals in athletics along with the Indian athletes.
One of the Sri Lankan journalists informed that the condition here is difficult for their athletes too, but their athletes were better prepared as their federation arranged a conditioning camp at home, in a city much colder and higher than Colombo.
There were disappointing performances in hurdles and triple jump too on the second day of athletics.
Bangladesh won only two bronze medals in the last SA Games in India three years ago. This time Bangladesh have so far bagged a silver and a bronze medal and were hoping to add to that tally through Zahir yesterday.