Amazing performances, uncomfortable questions

Clearly, nobody was prepared for the series of stunning performances from athletes like long jumper Ankit Sharma and sprinters like Dutee Chand, Srabani Nanda and Muhammed Anees over the last few days in Kazakhstan and Poland that came with berths for this August’s Rio Olympics.

A file picture of Ankit Sharma. "He is capable of going over 8.30m", said Nishad who guided Ankit to 8.04m early last year.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Amazing! Unbelievable! Shocking!

Clearly, nobody was prepared for the series of stunning performances from athletes like long jumper Ankit Sharma and sprinters like Dutee Chand, Srabani Nanda and Muhammed Anees over the last few days in Kazakhstan and Poland that came with berths for this August’s Rio Olympics.

And now, expectations have reached unreasonable proportions. “Can Ankit win a medal at Rio…? The silver medallist at the London Olympics had done just 8.16m,” one fan asked.

To put things in perspective, India has never won an athletics medal at the Olympics after independence.

What is the reason for this sudden spring of national records? Are these performances clean?

“The reason… they were training very seriously and they say the weather is very good at Almaty,” C. K. Valson, the secretary of the Athletics Federation of India, told Sportstar.

“Not only our country, athletes from other countries also did very well in Kazakhstan.”

Valson, however, admitted that Ankit’s 8.19m long jump floored him. “I was shocked but you can’t say it was a fluke performance, there were two other big jumps (8.14 and 8.17) in that series,” he explained.

N. V. Nishad Kumar, who had coached Ankit on and off since 2009 till he came under the care of Romanian coach Bedros Bedrosian eight months ago, feels that Ankit is capable of producing bigger jumps.

“He is capable of going over 8.30m. In fact, our target for him was 8.55m,” said Nishad who guided Ankit to 8.04m early last year. That is something hard to digest.

It is also hard to digest Dutee Chand’s 11.24 and Srabani Nanda’s 23.07s in the women’s 100 and 200. So, have these athletes been dope-tested? “Yes, all the record-breakers have been sent for dope tests,” said Valson.

However, a note of scepticism came from Dr. P. S. M. Chandran, the president of the Indian Federation for Sports Medicine. “It is not easy to qualify in sprints. And somebody is doing an 8.19m long jump. These are all mind-boggling performances, all coming at the last minute. If they progress gradually, one can understand but overnight when so many people come up with stunning performances, people will be curious to know how. They would like to ask questions. Anyway, let us feel happy that some more people have qualified for the Olympics.”

Talking to Dr. Chandran, one gets the feeling that perhaps it is easy to dope these days despite Russian athletes being banned from the Olympics over dope and Kenyans coming under a close watch from all over.

“Basically WADA’s concentration is not on India, its officials know India is not going to do much at the Olympics. They don’t expect Indians to create World or Olympic records on the road to Rio. “They will go for the big fry that can create them,” explained Dr. Chandran.