Mumbai: Former India sprinter Ashwini Nachappa today expressed happiness over ace long jumper Anju Bobby George's upgraded gold medal in an event that she took part in eight years ago and said the nation is proud of her feat though it has come after so long.
"Whether it is eight years, a gold medal is a gold medal. She was at the peak of her performance at that point of time. We cherish those moments when she won the silver and we are happy that she got the gold, of course for other reasons," Nachappa said during a promotional event here today.
"She is extremely happy and we are very proud that she got a clean chit and the one who cheated got caught," the 46-year-old former athlete told reporters on the sidelines of the launch of a Puma running relay event for school children in three cities - Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai.
Anju's second place finish at the 2005 Monaco World Athletics final was upgraded to a gold medal yesterday, following a confirmed dope violation by Russian competitor Tatyana Kotova who had stood first but has now been stripped of her place after her sample was found to contain traces of a banned substance when it was tested again.
Nachappa, who is president of 'Clean Sport India', also warned that doping is rampant in India - even at the grassroot level.
"I believe that the performance enhancing drugs have become rampant even in our country. Among young children, it is such a dangerous trend. I am connected with athletics and when I see the junior meets that takes place, it is actually quite frightening. You go to any national championship, you see syringes on the ground, in the toilets."
She wanted young athletes as well as the coaches to be educated about the dangers of dope.
"I think we need to have a broader education, not just within the classrooms but on the field also, not just with the children but also with our trainers, because after all kids will not know what they are taking till a certain age. They are not educated enough and believe in coaches. You have got to be sensitive on these issues."
Nachappa termed the two-year ban imposed on younger fellow-athlete Ashwini Akkunji and two of the three other Asian Games gold medal winning members - Mandeep Kaur and Sini Jose - of the 4x400 relay quartet in 2011 for doping as a sad day in sports.
"It was a huge blow and I thought those were the finest four after our era that we saw come on to the track. To actually watch them run in the (2010) Commonwealth Games, the entire nation watching Ashwini Akkunji run that run (in Guangzhou, China, 2010), it brought so much of pride.
"There was a gap after (PT) Usha, Shiny (Wilson) and myself left. You really didn't see the relay team in that kind of a performance. Of course, it was a great shock to all of us. Sad day for Indian sports," she said.
Akkunji has served her sentence and is back on track.
Nachappa also hit out at the Indian Olympic Association, which has been suspended by the international Olympic body for not amending the constitution as per their guidelines, for the current piquant situation due to which Indian athletes are being forced to take part in the next month's Winter Olympic Games in Sochi under the IOC flag.
"The very fact that our Indian team is going to Winter Olympics without sorting out these issues, speaks volumes. I would have hoped that they had their general assembly and adopted the constitution as per the IOC, prior to our team going so that at least they could compete under our national flag.
"But unfortunately the (IOA) officials don't consider that important at all. They have always been insensitive towards the athletes," she said. Nachappa dismissed chances of India making a bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, and said the country is not prepared for hosting "The Greatest Show on Earth."
"With the kind of mess we are in, we are not ready for it. I don't think so. That is a colossal waste. Unless you say you are going to win 30 medals and then go for it. We don't have the infrastructure, we don't have a programme in place. I don't think bringing an Olympics will resolve the issue, we need to sort our home first and then look at other things," she said.
Out of favour Indian cricketer Yuvraj Singh was also present at the event as the sports equipment manufacturer's brand ambassador but refused to talk to the media on cricket.
Each school child between the age of 13 and 16 would be running 1 km in the relay race and the organisers expect 250-300 teams from each of the three cities to take part. In Mumbai it will be held on February 9 at the MMRDA grounds and in Delhi on February 15 at the JNU campus. The date and venue of the Bangalore event will be decided later.
The fastest child would have a chance to meet Jamaican world sprint king Usain Bolt, a global brand ambassador of Puma.