Inter-State Athletics Championships: New stars take the spotlight

In the absence of track and field stars like Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra and national 3000m steeplechase champion Avinash Sable, javelin thrower D. P. Manu, triple jumpers Aishwarya Babu and Praveen Chithravel added sheen to the meet with their impressive show.

Golden leap: B. Aishwarya of Karnataka took the gold medal in triple jump with a 14.14m effort before adding another gold medal in the long jump event at the National Inter-State Senior Athletics Championships.   -  Velankannai Raj B

The 61st Inter-State Senior Athletics Championships concluded on June 14 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai. Host Tamil Nadu emerged as the winner with a score of 133.5. Haryana (101.5) finished as runner-up, while Uttar Pradesh (99) finished third.

Around 800 athletes took part in what was a final fight for spots in the Indian contingent for the upcoming World Championships in Oregon (July 15-24) and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham (July 28-August 8). The competition had been shorn off a bit of lustre due to the absence of Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra and 3000m steeplechase national record holder Avinash Sable.

Here are a few athletes who got to bask in the media spotlight and glory as they booked their tickets to the showpiece events.

Manu continues long distance affair with javelin

Rapid progress: D.P. Manu of Karnataka took the men’s javelin gold with a personal best effort of 84.35m at the National Inter-State Senior Athletics Championships at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai. His third 80m+ effort moved him into the top four of the all-time India list behind Neeraj Chopra, Shivpal Singh and Davinder Singh Kang.   -  Velankannai Raj B

 

DP Manu is in the groove, now part of a young bunch of Indian javelin throwers trailing Neeraj. Manu’s four performances this season are his career bests. While two of those throws have seen the young man from Karnataka register distances above 80 metres, his 84.35m (Personal Best) effort on June 11 moved him into the top four of the all-time India list. The throwers above him on the leaderboard are Neeraj (89.30m, 2022), Shivpal Singh (86.23m, 2019), and Davinder Singh Kang (84.57m, 2017).

Incidentally, all the four athletes have, at some point, trained with coach Kashinath Naik.

The coach made all heads turn towards the southern stand of the stadium as he screamed “Bharat Mata ki jai” when 22-year-old Manu achieved his best throw.

Ab toh gala baith gaya (I have a sore throat now),” Naik said after the event. It’s an inconvenience he was happy to have. Manu revealed how he had been trying to emulate Neeraj’s follow-through technique. “I have started this recently. I watch Neeraj’s training videos. We had a chat about this, a couple of times.”

Naik added, “He has started practising Neeraj’s follow-through routine, the one where he throws the javelin and comes down with the momentum. Manu has done it in practice, but he is yet to do it in competition. With that the strength and angle of release can be improved. Also, the distance covered is more, which helps put more power behind the throw.”

A giant leap for Aishwarya

Karnataka’s Aishwarya Babu may have travelled to Chennai hoping to top the field in triple jump, but she left the city with the long jump gold to her name as well.

On the final day, Aishwarya took the first place with a 6.60m attempt in long jump. However, she couldn’t better her 6.73m effort from qualifying which made her India’s second-best all-time long jumper after the legendary Anju Bobby George.

This came after she broke the national record in the women’s triple jump with a 14.14m effort.

The feat was the icing on the cake as she secured a place in yet another event of CWG. She had already made the triple jump cut for Birmingham 2022 at the Indian Grand Prix in Thiruvananthapuram with a leap of 13.94m. Aishwarya’s coach B.P. Aiyappa, although happy with his ward’s performance, is a little disappointed to not tick off the long jump national record from his list of objectives. “This has been a wonderful performance from her. Expecting a national record (6.83m) in long jump as well was a bit much. Getting it at the CWG would be perfect,” he said after the event.

Praveen enters triple jump 17m club

Surprise package: Praveen Chithravel of Tamil Nadu (567) celebrates after winning the men’s triple jump event at the 61st National Inter-State Senior Athletics Championships at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai /The Hindu   -  Velankannai Raj B

 

Ahead of the men’s triple jump final, only four Indian men in the history of the sport had recorded a distance in excess of 17 metres.

Two of them, Abdulla Aboobacker and Karthik Unnikrishnan, had entered the club less than a month ago and were fan favourites. Spectators also got behind Eldhose Paul, who fell painfully short of the mark with a jump of 16.99m at the Federation Cup in Thenhipalam earlier this year.

Not bothered by the noise, a 21-year-old in red jumpers limbered up nearby on his home turf.

A group of athletes from Uttar Pradesh, meanwhile, raved about Aboobacker’s take-off. “Speed dekhi hai bhai ki? Hawa jaisa bhaag raha (Have you noticed his speed? He runs like the wind),” one of them said. Two others nodded in agreement.

The conversation, which went on for a while, was cut short with an “Oye teri... (the equivalent of an incredulous what the… gasp)” as the announcer screamed: 16.90.

Tamil Nadu’s Praveen Chithravel, the one in the red jumpers, had just passed Aboobacker’s first jump – 16.67m. The UP athletes could not hold back their surprise. As Praveen sauntered back, his coach Yoandri Betanzos called out to him from the stands. “Calm down,” was all he said. Praveen heard him and walked on to where he was a few minutes ago.

As competitors played catch-up with Praveen’s mark, he got back to his pre-jump routine. He stood calmly with both hands to his ears, maybe in an effort to shut out the raucous celebrations after Aboobacker’s second jump of 16.89m. The game was afoot. A little later he was back to opening his arms wide and standing still for a few seconds. Praveen gestured to the spectators to clap for him, when he reached the start point for his second attempt. They promptly responded. Two huge steps and a hop later, a collective gasp at the photographer’s end conveyed it is a big jump. Praveen’s celebration drew the crowd into the moment. It seemed like a whole minute before the announcement finally came: 17.18.

He had not only gone past the CWG qualification standard of 16.56m but he also breached the Worlds mark of 17.14m. However, he doesn’t have any grand plans for the big events yet. “I don’t overthink these things. I am just focusing on doing my best every day and trying to stay away from being lazy.” By his admission, he will follow what his favourite actor Kamal Haasan says in the movie Vikram, “Pathukalam da (We’ll see as it comes).”

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