Ashwini in Rio relay team, Anu plans to move court

Despite Kerala’s Anu Raghavan producing far better timings in the individual 400m, Ashwini has been included in the six-member Indian mile relay team for the Rio Olympics while the former does not find a place.

A file picture of Ashwini (right) and Anu.   -  Akhilesh Kumar

She has a dope-tainted past, keeps ducking competitions frequently and may often be slower than her rivals but one gets the feeling that Ashwini Akkunji is the Athletics Federation of India’s 'golden girl’.

The former Asian Games 400m hurdles champion and a member of the gold-winning Indian women’s mile relay team at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, was slapped with a two-year ban after the country’s biggest doping scandal in 2011.

But even during the ban period, the Sports Authority of India went out of its way and allowed Ashwini and a few other banned athletes to train at NIS, Patiala.

And when the ban period ended in 2013, the AFI tried its best to offer Ashwini a swift return to competition and had planned to include her in the Indian women’s 4x400m relay team for the Asian Championship in Pune that year.

The Indian federation was breaking a few rules with that act for the entries for the Asian Championship had closed a lot earlier and it was swiftly turned down by the competition’s technical delegate from Japan who made it clear that clearing additional entries would be violating the world body IAAF and Asian body AAA rules.

Now, despite Kerala’s Anu Raghavan producing far better timings in the individual 400m, Ashwini has been included in the six-member Indian mile relay team for the Rio Olympics while the former does not find a place.

Anu, a member of the Indian relay team at last year’s World Championship in Beijing and the Asian meet in Wuhan, has run four sub-54s races this season while Ashwini has just two, the last in an unofficial trial race held alongside the National inter-State meet in Hyderabad recently.

Miffed with the unfair treatment, Anu left the national camp in Bengaluru on Saturday evening and has taken a bus back to Kerala. She now plans to move the Kerala High Court against the federation.

Anu has been in fine form this season and came with some of the best times of her career, including a personal best 53.54s at the Federation Cup in New Delhi in late-April, behind Kerala’s Anilda Thomas, Asian silver medallist M.R. Poovamma and international Jauna Murmu. Ashwini, incidentally, did not take part in the meet.

A few days before that, Anu had beaten Karnataka’s Ashwini in the first Indian Grand Prix in New Delhi and again in Poland National Championship at Bydgoszcz late last month.

The only occasions she had run slower than Ashwini was at the Sprint and Relays Cup in Erzurum, where Anu ran in weaker race ‘B’, and in the unofficial trial race in Hyderabad held alongside the National inter-State meet recently.

Ashwini was included in the national camp and in the squad to train in Turkey and Poland without having competed in a single race last season. Anu had run more than 10 races last season including in 400m hurdles where she finished fourth in the Asian championships in a personal best 57.79s.

While Anu has been faster than Ashwini (season best 53.70 at the trial race in Hyderabad) this season, a top AFI official said the team’s coach Yuri Ogorodnik preferred the Karnataka athlete to Anu.

“Yuri said that Ashwini was a better relay runner than Anu,” said the official.

Yuri, incidentally, was the coach when Ashwini and five other Indian relay runners were suspended for doping in 2011. None of the top four women's 4x400 relay runners this season has come from the ‘Yuri stable’.

In a nutshell: Anu Raghavan v Ashwini Akkunji

Indian GP 1 (Delhi): Anu 54.3 (3rd); Aswini 55.2 (7th).

Indian GP 2 (Patiala): Anu DNS — did not start; Aswini 54.81 (5th).

Federation Cup (Delhi): Anu 53.54 (4th, PB); Aswini DNS.

Sprint & Relays Cup (Erzurum, Turkey): Anu 55.18 (race ‘B’); Aswini 54.68 (race ‘A’).

Poland Nationals (Bydgoszcz): Anu 53.72 (4th); Aswini 53.98 (5th).

National inter-State (Hyderabad, trial race): Anu 53.78 (3rd); Aswini 53.70 (1st).

Indian GP IV (Bengaluru): Anu 53.88 (4th); Aswini DNS.