“It’s no joke coming back at 34 and after a two-year ban”, says M.R. Poovamma, the senior-most member of the Indian women’s 4x400m relay team that booked a Paris Olympics berth in the Bahamas on Monday, as she wants to set an example that age does not matter if the body is permitting.

Poovamma, the senior-most member of the team which finished second at the second round heat race to qualify for the Paris Games at the World Athletics Relay in Bahamas, was banned for two years for a doping offence in 2021. She made a return to competition last year.

“I wanted to prove that I am still the main member in the relay team and I can still do it. Even age does not matter. I wanted to set an example. I had a very satisfying comeback at this stage and I am very happy,” Poovamma told PTI from Bahamas capital Nassau.

“I have achieved everything, I have Asian Games medals, went to World Championships four times and I have been to Olympics twice. I missed the Tokyo Olympics because of the ban. It slipped out of my hands.

“So I will have to be in another Olympics and if my body is giving me company why should I stop the sport. Some foreign athletes run till 35 or 37. So I wanted to set an example for other athletes that age does not matter. So, I did it,” said Poovamma, who will turn 34 next month.

Her return to action during the Goa National Games was not without obstacles as the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) said her ban period has not ended.

But the NADA’s anti-doping appeal panel (ADAP) reviewed its earlier decision and finally decided the date of return in her favour, following the intervention of Kerala High Court.

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The Arjuna Awardee is one of the most decorated athletes in the country, having won a women’s 4x400m relay gold and 400m individual silver in the 2013 Asian Championships.

She went on to win a gold and a bronze in the women’s 4x400m relay and 400m individual event. The Karanataka-born sportsperson, who married another international athlete from Kerala, also won a gold each in the women’s 4x400m and mixed 4x400m relay races in the 2018 Asian Games.

Poovamma is happy and relieved that she did not quit when she was banned, though she was broken mentally and cried during practice during those difficult times.

“Only I and my family know what went through in those two-three years. Everyone was expecting I will retire. But I want to make a comeback. I have done and achieved everything but after getting banned, I never kept retirement as an option.

“I wanted to leave the sport after doing something. My husband supported me so well and he was looking after the training which Galina (Bukharina) coach sent me. Three years without any competition and coming back was not easy,” she said.

“During the ban, I was mentally broken completely but I wanted to run again, not quit. Something bad happened to me and I don’t know how the incident happened but the AFI know what I am.” She said she will continue running till her body permits.

“I can’t take it if somebody tells me to stop the sport, I love my sport so much. I will continue till my body allows, even now I have no plans to quit.

“I feel my body is in the best shape, even better than what I used to be in younger days. So I am even thinking that I can run with better timing than when I was a few years back. If my body is allowing, I will not quit.”