The last-minute pull-out of prominent athletes, including local sprinter Dutee Chand and top middle distance runner Jinson Johnson, has taken some gloss off the 58th National Open Athletics Championships starting at the Kalinga Stadium here on Tuesday.
Bearing the brunt of being scheduled just after the Asian Games, the event first witnessed the unavailability of well-known athletes, such as javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, the entire team of 400m women's relay team, including emerging star Hima Das, discus thrower Seema Punia and seasoned steeplechaser Sudha Singh.
With the meet drawing closer, more Asian Games medallists decided to skip the event. While Johnson will be in Delhi to receive the Arjuna award on Wednesday, Mohammad Anas is said to have met with a minor accident.
The absence of double silver-medallist sprinter Dutee will disappoint the local fans. “Earlier, she was up for it, but then she wanted to take a break,” said Dutee's coach N. Ramesh.
However, at least four Asiad medal winning athletes, including triple jump gold-medallist Arpinder Singh, women's long jump silver-medallist Neena V., 1500m bronze winner P. U. Chitra and 400m silver-winning 400m hurdler A. Dharun, will be seen in action.
“My training has not been great after the Asian Games. I just want to perform and get the gold. There is no mark in my mind. It's about taking pride in your department, which stands for you even during lean patches,” said Arpinder, who works with ONGC.
Notwithstanding the high-profile pull-outs, the season-ending event at the venue, which hosted the Asian championships last year, will serve as a platform for those who have not been able to make their mark this year. Besides, it will be an ideal ground for those, including the heroes of the inter-Services meet, who want to get selected for the national camp ahead of the Asian championships in April in 2019.
The Asian championships assumes importance considering the fact it will held in Doha, the venue for the World championships later in the Olympic qualification year.
Three Japanese athletes, who were keen to compete here, also pulled out after one of them fell ill.
It will be interesting to see how National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) treats this meet as it has been either ignoring some major athletics meets or collecting limited number of samples in recent years.