Muhammed Anas Yahiya is one of the mainstays of India’s 4x400m mixed relay team that has been doing well in international meets of late.
Having won the gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, the team made history by qualifying for the finals of the IAAF World Championships in 2019 in Doha, thereby clinching a spot at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Anas, along with VK Vismaya, Jisna Mathew and Noah Nirmal Tom, finished third in the second heat of the semi-finals behind Poland and Brazil with a time of 3:16.14 to reach the final. India even bettered their previous best of 3:16.47.
The 25-year-old Anas, from Nilamel in Kerala, comes from a state known for producing top-quality track and field athletes. And as he gears up to participate in his second Olympics Games, Anas is hard at work in Patiala where he has been ever since early 2020, thanks to the Covid-enforced nationwide lockdown.
Anas reveals how difficult it was to stay away from training in the initial months of the lockdown which started in March 2020. However, under the watchful eyes of relay coach Galina Bukharina, Anas and his fellow athletes are back training at full intensity for the Tokyo Olympics at the National Institute of Sports (NIS) Patiala.
“We are in NIS Patiala right now. Galina madam is helping us train right now. We have been in the camp in Patiala ever since lockdown began,” Anas told Olympic Channel.
“During the initial phase of the lockdown, we were completely stuck here. We could not even step out to the track. We could just move and train inside our room and the surroundings for about 2-3 months.
“Then we were given access to the outdoor facilities and training started there. But we had to maintain the social distancing and other Covid-19 protocols. For the last 2-3 months, we are almost back to normal, full-fledged training,” he revealed.
However, Anas feels that the break from training and lack of competitive meets during the lockdown has affected his speed and it is one area he is working on right now.
“I think I can still improve my speed. My speeds are a bit down due to the break that came due to the lockdown. I want to improve that before the Olympics.”
Anas cannot wait for the Indian Grand Prix which is set to be held as a three-part event on February 18 (IGP-I), 25 (IGP-II) and March 5 (IGP-III) respectively at the NIS.
“Training is progressing well for now. But we will know our level when we participate in the upcoming meets in February (Indian GP).”
Anas, who became only the third Indian after Milkha Singh (1956 and 1960) and KM Binu (2004) to qualify for the Olympics in men’s 400m at Rio 2016, also wants to participate in the individual event at Tokyo 2020 too.
His performance at the 2018 Asian Games where he won the silver in 400m gave him a lot of confidence. It must be noted that Anas finished 4th in 400m at the 2018 Commonwealth Games as well.
“I want to improve my time and perform well. I want to participate in the upcoming meets to qualify in the individual event as well.”
Anas’ personal best in 400m is 45.20 seconds (which is a national record). The Olympic qualification mark is 44.90 seconds. The Malayali athlete’s confidence has also been boosted by the performances of the mixed relay team too.
“I hope I can do well in the relay too. The performance in the Asian Games actually gives us a lot of confidence, going into the Olympics because we set a good time in the Asian meet. We have also set a good time in the World Championship also. So, there is a lot of hope and confidence going into Tokyo 2020.
“We have the World Relay coming up. We want to set a good time in that competition. We need to improve our timing to compete in Tokyo,” he added.
As he works towards getting himself into top shape for Tokyo 2020, three areas he is focusing on are strength, explosive power and speed. Anas hopes improving in these areas will help him excel at the biggest stage in sports. However, he is desperate for competitive action before the Olympics.
“Many runners take different approaches. I concentrate on strength, explosive power and my speed. These are the three attributes I concentrate upon and I need to improve on. Also, it is very important to train in such a way that avoids the chance of injuries. And you need competitive experience, it is very important.”
Anas also revealed how coach Galina had a plan to take the athletes to South Korea and spend some time there to acclimatise themselves better to the weather and conditions in Japan before the Olympics. But the sprinter now believes chances of them going abroad to train are minimal, given the Covid-19 restrictions around the world.
“We are in touch with the association over whether we can go abroad and train but due to the restrictions imposed by Covid, nothing is possible right now,” he said. “Even the coach is unclear about what we can do. Hopefully, something is sorted out after the Indian GP. Even if we go abroad, we need competitive action which is very important.
"The coach had a plan to go to Korea and acclimatise ourselves there so that we can adjust easily to the Tokyo weather conditions. But then Covid happened. Now, we’re not sure how or where we can do this."