The 2013-2016 IAAF Strategic Plan has six Core Values: universality, leadership, unity, excellence, integrity and solidarity, and a Vision Statement: “To lead, govern and develop the sport of athletics in all its forms worldwide, uniting the Athletics Family in a spirit of excellence, integrity and solidarity.”
With the Asian Athletics Championships in Guangzhou, China, just a month away, Indian athletes put their best foot forward at the 49th Open National Championships at the Tatya Tope Stadium in Bhopal from 6-9 October.
The Championships were considered as the first trials for selection of the Indian team for the Asian meet with the Inter-State meet in Chennai, from 21 Oct, set as the final selection meet.
Quite expectedly, contests were keen in the sprints, especially in the 400m in either section, with the athletes trying to catch attention for slots on the relay teams. There was considerable improvement over performances achieved in the National Sprints Meet at Patiala around three weeks earlier.
The focus was firmly on Tintu Luka, one of the rising stars of Indian athletics, who is trained by Indian athletics legend P. T. Usha. The 20-year-old Luka broke through for the first time to win a senior National title, the 800m, at the expense of the more experienced Sinimole Paulose and Sushma Devi. She was to later add the silver in the 400m and anchor the Kerala team to the gold in the women’s 4x400m relay.
Quite often in the past, Luka had been beaten on the home straight by Paulose and Devi and on this occasion also there looked the possibility of another defeat. But the youngster was well prepared for the challenge posed by Devi and effortlessly held her off during the final 90 metres when she surged through for a personal best and Indian season-leading time of 2:03.53. It was also the seventh best timing in Asia this season.
Paulose, back home after a training stint at Potchefstroom, South Africa, was competing in her first race of the season. Understandably, there was rustiness. She did not have the speed to keep up the chase when Devi took off from 250 metres, with Luka in pursuit. Paulose was to pull out of the 1500m later.
In a meet where top-level performances were at a premium, two men rose above the ordinary, triple jumper Renjith Maheswary and 400m hurdler Joseph Abraham. Maheswary jumped 16.68m, his best in 15 months, and a result that should put him back in the reckoning at the continental level.
Maheswary had closed last season with an ordinary 15.81m at the same venue in Bhopal and had struggled since then to regain form. He said he was confident of touching up to 16.80m this time. “I should be doing 17 metres by the time the Asian championships come,” said the 23-year-old jumper from Kerala.
Against such fine jumping, Amarjeet Singh, the man tipped to challenge Renjith for the title and who held the championship record at 16.53m, could do nothing much bar an opening-round 16.22m. Renjith closed the contest with a 16.65m as though to assert his form.
Abraham had been in excellent form this season, with timings of 49.59 and 49.87 in May and June. In a season where the athletes are expected to hit ‘peak’ at least twice, with the Asian Championships coming only in November, Abraham did show a slump in July and had a disappointing first-round exit from the World Championships in Berlin with a disqualification.
He made up for that in Bhopal with 50.26, only his 10th best timing, but one that boosted his morale after the debacle in Berlin. Second-placed Avin Thomas clocked a personal best 50.70.
The men’s short sprint produced an upset, with the in-form Abdul Najeeb Qureshi coming seventh and last. B. G. Nagraj, recovering from an injury, won in 10.55, equaling Qureshi’s season-leading mark. Another established sprinter, Shameer Mon ended up sixth in 10.67. Ritesh Anand and Suresh Sathya had PBs of 10.57 and 10.59 respectively for the second and third spots.
Qureshi had the satisfaction of winning the 200m in a PB of 21.21, also a season-leading time, with S. Arunjith running him close at 21.26. “I have had a lot of starting problems and even in the 200 my start was not that good,” said Qureshi. He beat Arunjith over the last 40 metres.
A surprise was in store in the men’s 400m also with S. K. Mortaja beating Bibin Mathew, the leader this season (46.16). Mortaja had his first National title while Mathew was not disappointed with his effort since he had just recovered from a bout of viral fever and felt that he was not in the best shape to match Mortaja on the final straight.
Surendra Kumar Singh effortlessly claimed the distance double, but given Bhopal’s altitude of 500 metres, coach Nikolai Snesarev was of the opinion that good timings were going to be at a premium. The coach wanted Surendra to clock 13:45 or below for the 5000 but had to be eventually satisfied with the 13:59.94 that his ward clocked.
The women’s section also had a distance double winner, Kavita Raut. Her task was made easier with Preeja Sreedharan, another athlete who went to Potchefstroom for training under a Mittals Champions Trust programme, dropping after a lap in the 5000m and not competing in the 10,000m.
M. A. Prajusha was another woman who scored a ‘double’. She won the Long Jump and Triple jump titles, with marks of 6.28m and 13.41m. With Anju George sitting out this season and with Mayookha Johny yet to recover from a ligament injury in her foot, Prajusha had no one to push her.
The contest for relay places on the Indian team did not really pick up in the women’s 400m. And yet, Manjeet Kaur, running only her second final of the season, clocked a season-leading 53.62 while winning from Tintu Luka. Mandeep Kaur, the leading performer of the season and owner of a sub-52 effort last season pulled out of the competition at the eleventh hour, thus leaving it a two-horse race beween Manjeet and Luka. At 54.15 for the silver, Luka had a PB, but it is unlikely that she would stake her claim for a place in the team in the 400m.
Nothing went right for H. M. Jyothi in these championships. She was beaten to second place in both the 100m and 200m. Sarada Narayanan won the short sprint in 11.71 while K. Sowjanya took the 200m in 24.16.
What was forecast as an intense duel among three leading contenders in the women’s discus failed to provide the fireworks, though Seema Antil, with a last-gasp 57.53m edged Harwant Kaur (57.02m) for the gold. Till the final round, Harwant had led. The leader this season, Krishna Poonia, could manage only 55.82m for bronze. A crowded competition and a back injury were cited as reasons by Poonia for her below-par performance.