As a four-year-old Budhia Singh had sprinted into the record books for his running for over six hours at a stretch. However, he today neither has a coach nor the training facilities he yearns for. Arindam Ganguly tracks the athlete’s journey from glory to obscurity
He shot to the limelight at a tender age. But if his rise to stardom was rapid so was his fall from glory. Marathon runner Budhia Singh’s chequered career is aptly captured in Soumendra Padhi’s biopic of him. The national award-winning film, aptly titled ‘Duronto’, has acclaimed actor Manoj Bajpai playing the role of Budhia’s coach, the late Biranchi Das, with child artiste Mayur portraying the prodigy to perfection.
When Padhi’s flick is the centre of attention one can’t help wondering about the real Budhia who has been driven into a shadow. The spotlight was firmly fixed on him after he pulled off the 65 km marathon between Puri and Bhubaneswar. After ‘Duronto’ bagged the national award recently Orissa POST tracked down Budhia. With a wide, though melancholic, smile he blurted out he was happy at the film’s success and hoped it would benefit him in some way.
“I got the news of ‘Duronto’ clinching the national award from TV channels. I met Padhi sir and Mayur last summer during their visit to Orissa but have not watched the movie yet,” he said. The four-year-old Budhia Singh entered the Limca Book of Records in 2006 by covering 65 km non-stop.
The prodigy, then touted as the next Milkha Singh, suddenly disappeared from magazine covers and athletic events after 2007, almost as suddenly as he had blasted into the scene. In the years that followed the state witnessed the meteoric rise of several athletes, including the current national 100 metres women’s champion Dutee Chand, but little was heard of Budhia.
Once known as a ‘marathon prodigy’, Budhia, now 14, trains with 150 other inmates of the Kalinga Stadium hostel. He still gets up at 6 in the morning but the once-rigorous training session has shrunk to an hour’s languid limbering under the watchful eyes of Rupanwita Panda, his coach. With academic pressure piling on him the teenager can’t afford to spare much time for training, say locals of Saliasahi in the capital city where his mother and three sisters live.
Budhia fondly remembers his former coach Biranchi who nurtured him with affection and urged him to excel. He laments he is not getting half the attention and encouragement today that he used to get under Biranchi’s tutelage. “I am being trained for 100- and 200-metre sprints like the other inmates of the hostel. My coach used to train me for marathons,” said Budhia, adding he still misses Das while training at Kalinga Stadium.
Currently Budhia is not gearing up for any competition and whether he would take part in one in the coming season depends on his coach. Sharing concerns about his training and fitness Budhia revealed he had strained his right knee a few days back which forced him to stop training for a few weeks. His ability to come up with an exceptional performance is severely impaired by the lack of proper facilities at the stadium.
“I could benefit from special training to raise my fitness which unfortunately I don’t receive,” he said.
His family lives in a rickety dwelling with a leaky asbestos roof. Both his eldest sister and mother work at KIIT earning meagre monthly salaries while the two other sisters are students of a local college. Two square meals at the hostel and training apart, Budhia doesn’t get to avail of any other facility doled out by the sports and youth affairs department. His family’s paltry income is insufficient even for making ends meet.
Dwelling on his glorious feat, Budhia reminisced: “All I can remember was I started running at 6 am from Puri and reached the capital at around 2 pm. I had no idea I was creating a record and was about to make an entry into the Limca Book of Records. I believe the record is still unbroken.”
Budhia is a student of DAV Public School, Chandrasekharpur which he joined as a kindergarten student. His education is sponsored by the state government.
Born in a poor family, Budhia was sold off by his mother for Rs 800 to a pawnbroker when Das, a judo trainer, rescued him and took him to his coaching centre. Das was the first to discover Budhia’s astounding ability to run for long spans without getting worn out. After the “historic run” Budhia participated in as many as 48 marathons.
However, his coach’s rather severe training regimen for a four-year-old came under the scanner soon after his “historic” feat, and within a
few months the child welfare department barred Budhia from running in marathons. He was sent to a sports hostel.
Director of sports and youth affairs department Ananta Kishore Jena said, “As per government rules Budhia can’t be allowed to participate in a competition before he turns 18. Once he attains 18 years of age he is free to compete at state and national events and will receive all the facilities offered by the government to athletes.”
Padhi said he was in touch with Budhia and planning to help him meet his educational expenses.
“He is only 14 and not before he attains 18 can he compete in the national and international events,” said the filmmaker.
“Through the movie I tried to show how a gem of an athlete has, due to lack of encouragement and support, lost the inner desire to excel and scale new heights. I hope the film will rekindle his determination to achieve feats as glorious as the marathon he had run,” he said.