By Tay Jun Wen/Red Sports
At the end of March 2013, Karthic Harish Ragupathy, 17, of Hwa Chong Institution won the A Division gold when he ran the 4.3-kilometre route in 13 minutes 50.93 seconds at the 54th National Schools Cross Country Championship. This was the fourth time that he had won a national schools’ cross country division title.
Since 1971, only three school-athletes have won all three cross-country divisions – A, B and C. Karthic is one of them. Running in the colours of St. Joseph’s Institution, Karthic was the C Division champion in 2009 and picked up the B Division title in 2011. Karthic went on to pursue his studies in Hwa Chong Institution, where he was the A Division champion in both 2012 and 2013.
The first schoolboy who was a triple-division champion was S. Vasu, then of Christchurch Secondary. In 1986, he won the A Division title. He took the B Division title in 1985 and 1984, and the C Division title in 1982.
M. Maran of Assumption English School was the second person to achieve this feat by triumphing in 1989, 1987 and 1984 in the A, B and C Divisions respectively.
Red Sports caught up with Karthic, who turns 18 in June, to hear his thoughts about his achievements and the training process that has brought him this far.
Red Sports: How does it feel to know that you are one of three people since 1971 to have won the champion title in all three divisions?
Karthic: It feels wonderful to be one of the three people to have ever won individual titles across all three divisions. Honestly, I never thought I would achieve this feat. It has been a wonderful national schools journey and I’ll surely miss it. Hopefully, more youngsters in the upcoming years would be able to emulate this feat.
RS: Tell us about your track history.
Karthic: I started running track and field competitively in Secondary 2 (2009) when I clinched third and fifth place in the 1,500 metres and 3,000 metres respectively. Due to my poor finishing kick, I had to settle for those places as everyone overtook me on the last lap.
2010 was slightly better as I won the gold medal in the 3,000m B boys, my first track gold medal. I was pleasantly surprised as I broke 10 minutes, with a timing of 9:52.
I trained hard for the 2011 track season and despite a hamstring strain, I managed to clinch gold and silver in the 3,000m and 2,000m steeplechase respectively. When I lost in the steeplechase race, I was depressed. But I had the 3,000m final the next day so I knew I had to focus. The 3,000m race was special to me as I clocked 9:27, just six seconds away from the B Division boys’ record. But nevertheless, I was happy to end the season with valuable lessons learnt.
2012 was a great year, when I won two gold medals for both the 5,000m and 3,000m steeplechase. I was slightly disappointed as my timings weren’t good. Nevertheless, it felt great to finally win double gold.
RS: How have you changed through the course of your track and field journey?
Karthic: This is a sport where patience is paramount. Over the years, competing at track nationals, I learnt that victories do not come easy and one cannot be a champion overnight. Day in day out hard work is what constitutes commendable results. You fail more often than you win, but you know you have to keep going to finally achieve your goal. This sport has made me a stronger person mentally and physically.
RS: What were some of the difficulties and challenges which you faced in the process of training?
Karthic: I’m quite injury prone, so over-training has resulted in me suffering from shin splints thrice in two years. The worst of all was a hamstring strain in 2011 which prevented me from training for almost five weeks. That was torturous and affected my confidence level. Injuries are part and parcel of every athlete’s training so that wasn’t much of a problem to me. The hardest part was when you had to get up early in the morning and run, despite knowing that your friends would be sleeping soundly. Attaining that discipline took time.
RS: What has been your motivation?
Karthic: My coach has always reminded me, run for yourself and run because you want to and not for your school, friends, family or for your coach. That advice has played an integral part in my trainings and races. The chase to be the best I can has been the biggest motivation for me. While top-notch runners in Singapore strived to do their best and achieved great results, I too wanted to be like them. And the chase was on.
RS: How did you feel at each point in the different cross country divisions?
Karthic: I’ll have to say, the best race of all was my first, in 2009. I came into the race with few expectations, perhaps being a little hopeful about clinching top 20. But as the race progressed, I found myself with the leaders. I thought I had a chance of winning and I did it. I was simply overjoyed at that moment.
As I entered B Division, I lined up against bigger and older boys. I tried hard but could only manage a third placing in 2010. Nevertheless, I was delighted and the fact that my team achieved second place for the first time ever in SJI history made all the difference.
In 2011, I was more confident as my training was going well so I was gunning for top spot. I won the B Divsion title that year and that was when I realised, one more A Divsion title and I would have all the different divisional titles. Then in 2012 and 2013, I felt really strong and confident as I had trained really hard for those moments. That was when I won the two consecutive A Division titles.
RS: How has your family reacted towards your success on the track and in cross country?
Karthic: Without the support of my family, I would not have made it this far. They have made countless sacrifices like waking up early on weekends when I do, making time to come down for my races and encouraging always, even when I’m feeling down. They support my long-term goals and are always happy regardless of whether I win or not.
RS: What lessons have you gained in your journey as a tracker?
Karthic: I have learnt different training methods, what to do and what not to do, race tactics and most importantly, respecting the competition and fellow competitors.
RS: What advice would you give to aspiring trackers?
Karthic: Work hard and be patient. It will take time to see some results. Train with a group of motivated athletes, where you can push each other. Never give up and keep going no matter how tough it gets and one day, your dreams will become reality.
RS: What was your secret to success?
Karthic: Well, there is not really a secret to success in this sport. It all comes down to hard work, determination and perseverance. There are no shortcuts. You have to train progressively and hard, so that you keep getting better each year. Without a certain group of people, I would not have been able to reach this level of fitness. They are my training partners – Haarishankar, Zachary Devaraj, Shah Feroz and Coach Elangovan. We have worked together to ensure each of our goals are meet and I have to say, my training partners have played a big part in my success.