Spectators warm up to National Open Athletics meet in Warangal on weekend

In Warangal, the penultimate, and final day of the event got some respite from the torching sun, and saw more spectators come in than on the weekdays.

Spectators at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Warangal. - AASHIN PRASAD

Minutes after winning the 200m gold medal at the National Open Athletics Championships on Sunday, Tamil Nadu sprinter Archana Suseendran found three young fans eager to talk to her and click pictures.

She posed with the three pre-teen girls at the Jawaharlal Nehru (JLN) Stadium in Warangal and had a chat with them, telling them to pursue whatever they wanted to do fearlessly. The athlete saw the pictures and asked the adult accompanying the girls to share those with her.

A few metres away, a child crouched down on the track, pretended she was in the starting block and took off for a little sprint.

As the curtain came down on the 60th edition of the Open National event, a few hundred fans walked away with several talking points, some debating the importance of other sports in the country vis-à-vis cricket, in which action in the game's biggest T20 league, the IPL, resumed with a match between Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians in Dubai.

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In Warangal, the penultimate, and final day of the event got some respite from the torching sun, and saw more spectators come in than on the weekdays. Spectators sauntered in amid mildly overcast skies. The humidity was telling, but a touch of breeze helped. Most spectators made their way to the open stand on the west of the ground. The championships were the first competition of a national scale in the redeveloped JLN Stadium.

Most of the participants were not household names, but spectators engaged with the action and cheered them on. There were banners aplenty of politicians and dignitaries across the venue, and it would have helped spectators if images of a few leading athletes at the meet would have figured somewhere.

It also didn’t help that the biggest names of Indian track and field did not make it for the season-ending championships after the Tokyo Olympics. Race-walker Bhawna Jat was the only Olympian who participated in the championships.

A group of youngsters took their seats near the top row on Saturday. “My friends and I don’t really follow athletics,” said Yasim, a member of the group. “We are cricket fans. We have recently found jobs and are here because it's our day off.”

So, what drew the group to the stadium? Yasim immediately brought up Neeraj Chopra, who won India's first Olympic gold medal in athletics in Tokyo. His friends, too, perked up when Yasim spoke about watching Neeraj win the javelin event in Tokyo.

Five-year-old Abhinav Krishna and his father. - AASHIN PRASAD


Incidentally, the open championships saw another talented javelin thrower, Sahil Silwal, take gold on Thursday with a throw of 77.79m. The sport of javelin is steadily building up fans in the country, courtesy the exploits of Neeraj Chopra, and the feats of Sumit Antil, Devendra Jhajharia and Sundar Singh Gurjar in the Paralympics. Prashanth, a spectator who attended three days of the event, said watching 20-year-old Sahil — who has a personal best of 80.65m — throw was his favourite moment. "Don't be surprised if Sahil goes on to have international success," said Prashanth.

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Five-year-old Abhinav Krishna was a young spectator who soon lost interest and harried his father to return home. Another family of four was out for an outing. “I just wanted to take my kids out,” said Rajkumar, who let on that this was his first visit to the stadium. “Due to Covid-19 and lockdowns, there is no scope for sports for children,” he said.

A Warangal college-goer was disappointed that host State Telangana won only a single medal – a bronze in the 4x100m women’s relay.

View obstructed

Spectators had a few complaints, too. The view to the start and finish points on the track were obstructed by tents erected inside the venue. Spectators also felt the organisers could have placed drinking water dispensers at the venue. The camera crew at the event tried on occasions to enliven proceedings by egging on the sparse crowd, but spectators did not always oblige.

For instance, as the 800m men’s final was set to commence, the official organisers were choreographing a section of the crowd to chant, ‘We love you NOAC!’. The cameraman asked the spectators for several retakes and got a unison of groans.

The event ended with the sprinters enthralling the crowd. While the championships lacked in star quality, athletes such as Harmilan Bains (middle distance runner), Silwal, Praveen Chithravel (triple jump), B. Aishwarya (long jump), and Parul Chaudhary (steeplechase) thrust themselves into the spotlight.

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