National Open Athletics C'ships: Neena wins gold

Coming just over a month after the culmination of the Rio Olympics, most of the big names in Indian athletics stayed away from the Sports Authority of India's regional centre in Lucknow.

Indian long jumper V. Neena

V. Neena produced a personal best of 6.66m at the Indian Grand Prix in Bengaluru in July.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Nellickal V. Neena was nowhere close to her best, but still managed to win gold by a fair margin in the long jump with a distance of 6.43m on the opening day of the 56th National Open Athletics Championships here on Tuesday.

Coming just over a month after the culmination of the Rio Olympics, the competition was always expected to be a star-shorn affair and the opening day lived up to the expectation with most of the big names in Indian athletics staying away from the Sports Authority of India's regional centre here.

Barring a handful of old hands — including Commonwealth gold medallist M. A. Prajusha in long jump, Ashwini Akkunji in 400m and Om Prakash Singh in shot put — there was little by way of competition on the newly-laid track at the venue hosting its first major event. Barring Ashwini, none of the participants at Rio bothered to turn up for the only event before the Asian championships in Ranchi next year.

Neena had managed a personal best 6.66m at the Indian Grand Prix in Bengaluru in July, the last qualifying event for the Rio Olympics, falling short of the qualifying mark of 6.70m. Prajusha finished second with 6.02m while Mayookha Johny, still recovering from her injury sustained before the Olympics, did not participate despite being present.

“Not having anyone to push you does make it more difficult to give your best. Also, I felt dizzy after my second jump and was unable to concentrate completely on bettering my mark,” Neena said. However, she produced her best jump of the competition on fourth attempt.

Chief India coach Bahadur Singh insisted that Neena was the one to look out for in the future. “Mark my words, she is a bright prospect for a medal on the big stage internationally. She has been jumping in the vicinity of 6.50 for almost a year now and if she continues to work on her jumps — and she is hard-working enough to do that — she can get us a medal in Jakarta (2018 Asian Games),” Bahadur Singh said.

He also insisted that the event was important for those looking to impress the coaches and selectors and also to earn a call-up to the national camp.

In the women’s high jump, meanwhile, Sahana Kumari’s stranglehold on the event was broken with the national and meet record-holder pushed to second spot by Kerala’s Jinu Maria Manuel, who cleared 1.82m to take gold. Sahana could only manage 1.77m, almost 20 centimetres less than her national record of 1.92m.

Ashwini managed the best time in the heats for the 400m with 53.81 seconds to qualify for the final along with national team relay partner Sini Jose. The women's hammer throw event was unfinished due to poor visibility and would now be completed on Wednesday as the venue does not have permission to install floodlights.

Results:

Men: 5000m: 1. G. Laxmanan (SSCB, 14:16.07), 2. Sachin Patil (RSPB, 14:16.95), 3. Abhishek Pa (RSPB, 14:17.38). Shot put: 1. Om Prakash Singh (ONGC, 18.55m), 2. Jasdeep Singh (RSPB, 18.52), 3. Tajinderpal Singh Toor (SSCB, 18.36).

Women: 5000m: 1. L. Surya (RSPB, 16:05.90), 2. Sanjeevani Jadhav (ONGC, 16:15.05), 3. Monika Athare (LIC, 16:37.45). Long Jump: 1. V. Neena (RSPB, 6.43m), 2. M.A. Prajusha (RSPB, 6.02), 3. Karthika (TN, 5.95). High Jump: 1. Jinu Maria Manuel (Ker, 1.82m), 2. Sahana Kumari (Kar, 1.77), 3. Swapna Burman (ONGC, 1.77).