Unaware of death, the race of a son's life

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By JOHN MARY
  • Published 20.12.10
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Thiruvananthapuram, Dec. 19: The son of two national champion athletes today sprinted to the 100m gold in the Kerala school championships only to learn his father had died 13 hours ago and his mother had kept the news from him.

Mother Mercy Kuttan later told a sobbing Sujith, 18, that she had wanted him to compete today because his father and coach K.G. Murali Kuttan’s dream was to see him win an Olympic medal in 2014.

Murali and Mercy, an Arjuna Awardee and the first Indian woman to jump further than 6m, had been the country’s first athlete couple to win Asiad medals.

Sujith ran a 10.9-second race here at 3pm and told reporters he was “very happy” before making anxious queries about his father, who had been taken to hospital last night with what the son thought was mild chest pain.

In truth, the 56-year-old former 400m runner had suffered a massive heart attack and had died on the way to hospital around 1.30am — a piece of news that even TV channels had held back in deference to Mercy’s wishes.

Seconds after Sujith had touched the finishing line, event officials told him his father was not well and asked him to go to the hospital, just a few miles from the sporting venue. The young man was there in minutes, face to face with his mother and relatives.

“Why did you hide this from me, why didn’t you tell me Dad was not well? I would have left the track and been with him,” a sobbing Sujith asked Mercy, 50.

“You know your Dad’s dream,” she said. “He wanted to see you win a gold in the Olympics. I felt you should do this to fulfil his dream and that I shouldn’t stand in the way.”

There can be no comparison but the news of Sachin Tendulkar’s 50th Test century this evening might remind many of how the cricketer had left the World Cup in England in 1999 after the death of his father and then returned to score a ton just days later.

Murali had trained Sujith at the meet venue even yesterday, hours after the family’s arrival from Kochi, where Murali ran the Mercy Kuttan Athletics Academy.

Sujith, lodged with the other participants at the stadium, had kept enquiring about his father throughout this morning and afternoon. He was told to prepare for the event ---- his father was under treatment in hospital and there was nothing to worry.

The body was later brought to the stadium where hundreds gathered for a last glimpse before it was taken to Murali’s hometown of Ernakulam.

Murali, who took a diploma in coaching from the Netaji National Institute of Sports in Calcutta in 1985, had been training Sujith with the 2014 Olympics as the goal.

Murali himself had won the 400m gold in the Indo-Russian athletic meet in 1978, the 400m bronze and 4x400 relay silver at the 1978 Bangkok Asiad, and bronze in the 4x400 at a 1981 Asian event in Tokyo.

He and Mercy had met at the selection camp for the 1980 Moscow Olympics and fallen in love. They married two years later.

Mercy won the long jump silver in the 1982 New Delhi Asiad, gold at the 1987 SAF Games in Calcutta, and gold in the 4x400 at the Asian track and field event in New Delhi in 1989. She also participated in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.