SINGAPORE - Singaporean sprinter Zubin Muncherji set a new national men's 400-metre record when he completed the lap in 47.02 seconds at the Big Ten Championships in Bloomington, Indiana, on Saturday (May 12).
The 21-year-old, who was running on home ground as an Indiana University freshman, finished 10th overall in the 400m heats and narrowly missed out on a place in Sunday's final.
Had he made the final, his time would have placed him sixth. The race was won by Iowa's Mar'yea Harris (44.98sec).
Muncherji had held the previous national mark of 47.29sec set at the 2014 Asian Junior Athletics Championships in Taiwan.
His new mark is within 2 per cent of 46.19sec - South Korean Park Bong Go's sixth-placed time at the 2014 Asian Games. This means he has met Singapore Athletics' nomination standard for August's Asian Games in Indonesia, although final selection is subject to the Singapore National Olympic Council's approval.
An elated Muncherji told The Straits Times: "My finishing has gotten a lot stronger over the last couple of months... I knew I was going to run fast but it was just a matter of when.
"It feels good to be back after facing so many injury setbacks over the last couple of years. It took a lot to get back up to this point.
"I'm looking forward to going under 47 seconds this year, and I really do want to win a gold medal at the SEA Games and be able to go toe to toe with the top runners in Asia some day.
"A little self-belief goes a long way and you will achieve your goals if you stay the path and do all the little things right."
Training and competing in the United States with some of the brightest sprint talents and coaches over the past year has obviously helped too.
Muncherji left for Indiana University last June to start his freshman year, after reaching his national service operationally ready date (ORD) in the same month. The school competes in the top division of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
He said the training regimen was "extremely different", noting: "The coaches here pay really close attention to how our bodies feel during the days leading up to the race.
"After I came here, I did a lot of conditioning and built up quite a bit of mileage on my legs.
"The system here is extremely different where we compete almost every single weekend so our bodies are constantly put under a lot of stress and we get forced to adapt to it. To be honest, I still don't think I have fully adapted to the training load yet.
"I think I can vouch for a lot of athletes when I say that it's hard to stay motivated during the season especially when the times don't translate from what you have been doing in training.
"I'm just glad I trust myself and the process and did whatever I could to make sure I am in good shape."
Muncherji also had some inspiration from back home too, as he accomplished his latest feat on the Mother's Day weekend.
The banter with his mum Archana on Facebook - she reminded him of the time she had to rush for a spare pair of spikes when he could not find one shoe before a race - was also testament of their tight bond.
"My mother has always done everything for me. For example, I leave my packing until the last minute, and she would get paranoid and start packing for me," said Muncherji with a laugh.
"This national record feels more of a gift for me than it is for her, so I think I may buy her flowers when I'm back in Singapore some time next month."
Singapore Athletics (SA) general manager Yip Ren Kai lauded Muncherji's consistency and improvement.
He added: "This new national record is an excellent achievement for Zubin, who has been very consistent in both the indoor and outdoor seasons, and we should expect more from him.
"Just by the looks of the times, training in the States has done him good as he is improving at a good pace. We are in communication with his parents to keep track of his training, and we hope he can further develop into a force to be reckoned with."
Yip also revealed that the SA will "push for as many Asian Games nominations as possible for the good of the sport".
The qualifying period ends on June 17. The track and field athletes who have qualified by bettering the sixth-placed results from the 2014 Asian Games so far are Dipna Lim-Prasad (women's 400m hurdles) and Rachel Yang (women's pole vault).
Those who have met SA's nomination standard are Shanti Pereira (women's 100m and 200m), the women's 4x100m relay team, Lim-Prasad (women's 400m) and Muncherji.