The second day of the Inter-State Athletics Championships started with decathlete Tejaswin Shankar bleeding from his nose. Later, steeplechase gold medallist Balkishan was also seen retching after his race.
While dealing with the pressure of qualifying for the Asian Games, Indian athletes are also struggling in the sweltering heat and humid conditions of the host city. For a second straight day, Odisha continues to battle a heatwave, with temperatures in the city reaching as high as 44.4°C. The Indian Meteorological Department issued a yellow warning to cities around Bhubaneswar.
Tejaswin, who had been training in Arizona (USA), was luckily okay to continue and competed through the day in five disciplines in the decathlon event. In the three morning disciplines, Tejaswin accumulated 2368 points and had to play catch-up in the evening with the high jump and 400m to take his tally to 4209 points.
Several athletes struggled to perform at their optimum levels.
At the end of the 400m finals, a desolate-looking Vithya Ramaraj made her way off the track despite winning bronze. “I couldn’t recover,” said Vithya, who was gasping for breath. “We had a 400m semifinal in the morning.” Vithya couldn’t improve her timing in the final.
There was no respite on the opening day as well, with humidity levels touching 90 per cent. The 20km and 35km race walkers wildly missed their Asian Games qualification marks due to the adverse conditions. National record holder Priyanka Goswami, who finished close to 12 minutes behind her personal best time in the 20km race walk, felt the time was par considering the heat.
The Inter State was originally scheduled for Ranchi in the July window before it was moved to Bhubaneswar. But the Olympic Council of Asia’s (OCA) insistence on needing the squad from the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) for the Hangzhou Asiad by July 15 meant the championships were moved ahead by a month.
“We have been preparing, but there was a sudden change because this was supposed to be in July, and I was told a month earlier [of the change] and I had to come from Jamaica to compete. And the May meet [Federation Cup] was even earlier. So there was some disturbance in training,” said Srabani Nanda, who finished second in the 100m race.
On the hot conditions, the 32-year-old added, “The weather drained me out. It’s not good at all, but I cannot complain about it. These are similar conditions when you go to Doha. But it could have been better because when you are keeping at it for the qualification, your country should think 100 per cent about the athletes on where they can do better. It’s a matter of qualifying.”
Hamza Chatholi, an indoor Asian Games medallist from 2007 and a coach at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Academy, felt a full warm-up routine might prove unfavourable in this heat. “Normally you would go through a warm-up routine of 20 minutes. Here, if you walk for 10 minutes, you are sweating a lot,” he said.
Mihira Khopkar, the lead sports nutritionist with the Reliance Foundation, said this was an unpredictable environment to be exposed to for any athlete. “When you are sweating so much, people are changing three to four t-shirts in the first half of a session in these conditions. You are losing fluids and electrolytes, which need to be replenished. Everyone is experiencing the same humidity. We are focusing on three things: 1) keep drinking electrolyte water, 2) check the weight and urine colour, and, 3) avoid being thirsty,” said Mihira.
Mohamed Azarudeen, another coach at Bangalore SAI, while acknowledging the challenge for the athletes, argued that states also need to do their part to ensure they are well taken care of at a major event. “It’s not about just paying for the travel tickets and sending them over. They could have made arrangements for physiotherapists and nutritionists to be sent here along with the athletes,” he said.
With the excitement surrounding a strong field of contenders taking center stage at the Inter-State, several national records were expected to fall. However, no NRs have been broken thus far. With the heatwave expected to last two more days, one would hope the athletes remain unscathed at the end of it all.
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