Twelve toes and one Asian Games gold - meet India’s new heptathlon hero

Swapna Barman's journey to gold in Jakarta a victory against the odds

It’s raining gold for India at the 2018 Asian Games, but Swapna Barman may be the country’s most popular winner yet.

The 21-year-old has become the first Indian ever to win heptathlon gold at the Asian Games.

It seemed only fitting that it came a day after India's national sports day.

This, in itself, is an outstanding achievement.

But when you consider the barriers Barman overcame to realise her dream, the narrative becomes something truly unique, explaining why the nation's prime minister was one of the first to congratulate her.

From Jalpaiguri to Jakarta

Barman was born with an extra toe on each foot, making it almost impossible to find comfortable shoes in which to perform.

To compound matters, her humble upbringing meant she couldn’t afford bespoke equipment.

Her father worked as a rickshaw puller before two strokes forced him to stay at home, while her mother was a maid and a tea-picker.

But Barman would not be not perturbed.

Noticing her interest in sport, her father assembled crude high jump equipment with bamboo, so she could practice.

Armed with only her parents’ encouragement she continued her sporting education at the local Jalpaiguri Sports Complex, and her career started to take off.

A battle to the end for to Swapna Barman

Fast-forward several years and the West Bengali was beset with more problems even in Jakarta.

The day before she competed, Barman contracted severe toothache, meaning she was forced to compete with excruciating pain and a heavily bandaged face.

To a lesser athlete, these setbacks may have resulted a forfeit, or a dip in performance at the very least.

But, just as her childhood problems in years gone by, the injury seemed to spur Barman on.

The former high jump specialist defiantly secured three personal bests (out of seven events), a comfortable Asian Games crown, and a place in Indian sporting history.

Indian stars pay homage

Barman’s success has not only rewarded her dedication and perseverance, but will also improve the lives of her family.

The West Bengal government announced a Rs 10 lakh ($14,000) cash reward as well as a government job for the heroic heptathlete, according to Sportskeeda.

Barman’s victory, and story of her triumph in the face of adversity, reverberated around the world’s most populous country.

Indian cricket icons Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag joined Prime Minister Narendra Modi and actor Kasturi Shankar among others in praising Barman's athletic exploits.

It is perhaps not too unthinkable that Barman’s story would make the perfect Bollywood script.

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