By Iman Hashim/Red Sports
Nairobi, Kenya, Wednesday, July 12, 2017 — Thiruben Thana Rajan ran 47.91 seconds in the 400-metre heats of the IAAF World U18 Championships to set a new national under-18 record, pending ratification by Singapore Athletics.
The National Junior College student’s time eclipsed Ng Chin Hui’s old mark of 47.97s, set in 2011. It also saw him rank joint-12th overall to qualify for the semi-finals.
Running in the second of five heats, Thiruben put up a strong final 50 metres to finish in fifth. While the top four of each heat gained automatic qualification into the semi-finals, his time was good enough to see him among the fastest four remaining runners who also advanced.
“I’m really pleased with how I executed my race,” said Thiruben. “I can’t think of any way it could have gone better. I had a good start and still felt strong in the closing stages.
“To qualify into the semis 12th-fastest in a competition like this, against the best U18 runners in the world, is really quite an honour.”
In April, Thiruben was an A Division double champion at the 58th National Schools Track and Field Championships, where he set his previous personal best of 48.71s in the 400m and a new electronically-timed championship record of 1:55.40 in the 800m.
Previously a middle-distance specialist, he burst onto the 400m scene this year when he clocked 48.77s at the Singapore U18/U20 Athletics Championships in March, gaining qualification for this world youth meet.
Still, the 16-year-old expressed disbelief at shaving 0.8 seconds off his personal best after a period of preparations which he described as less than ideal.
“Coming into these championships, I was actually having doubts about my form,” he said. “I felt like I was at the peak of my performance at (the) Asian Youth (Championships), back in May. I was expecting a sub-48s timing back then, but unfortunately I didn’t have the best races and things didn’t go according to plan.”
Thiruben managed 49.60s, 48.83s and 49.17s in the heats, semi-finals and final respectively at the 2nd Asian Youth Athletics Championships in Bangkok two months ago.
“Immediately after arriving back from Bangkok, I had to sit for my common tests,” Thiruben added. “Since I had missed a lot of classes due to competitions, I had a lot to catch up on. I had no choice but to take at least a week’s break from training to study.”
To aggravate things, he then strained his quadriceps badly on his first training back, extending his lay-off to more than two weeks.
“I lost a lot of fitness and spent my entire June holidays training every day to recover some of my lost form,” he said. “Even after that, I still wasn’t back to my old self.
“So really, I came here just expecting to run close to my old PB of 48.71s. Never did I think that I would break it by this much.”
Undeniably, the improvement in Thiruben’s timings has been nothing short of stellar. Having run his first competitive 400m race only in February this year – where he clocked 50.18s at the Singapore Athletics Series 3 – he is now just 0.62s away from Zubin Muncherji’s national record of 47.29s.
“The fact that I broke the (under-18) record still hasn’t really settled in yet. It was something I had been aiming for for awhile now, so to actually accomplish it is really humbling,” Thiruben said.
“I have a long way to go in my running career, and hopefully this is just the beginning of many more good timings to come in the future.”
He still has unfinished business for now, with the semi-finals pencilled in for Thursday, July 13 at 11.45pm Singapore time.
He said, “It would be great to improve on my timing in the semis tomorrow. But more importantly, I’ll be going out there to have fun and soak in the atmosphere of running in such a beautiful stadium and such a grand stage.”
Thiruben is one of three athletes representing Singapore in Nairobi, with the other two being Joshua Chua in the 100m and Chong Wei Guan in the 110m hurdles.
Aided by an impressive start – his reaction time of 0.175s was the fastest in his heat – Joshua finished fourth in 10.94s to earn a place in the 100m semi-finals.
The Raffles Institution student, who has a personal best of 10.78s clocked at the Asian Youth championships in May, then managed 11.05s to finish eighth in his semi-final, despite a quicker – and overall second-fastest – reaction time of 0.156s.
Wei Guan will run his 110m hurdles heats on Thursday, July 13, at 5.34pm Singapore time.
Update: Thiruben recorded 48.40s in the first of three 400m semi-finals, finishing fifth.
Wei Guan finished sixth in his 110m hurdles heat with a time of 14.10s.