Tepid build-up to Federation Cup

Leading athletes are hesitant to peak early - with the Asian Championship in the horizon - as the 21st Federation Cup athletics championship begins in Patiala on Thursday.

The leading wards of P.T. Usha - Jisna Mathew and Tintu Luka - arrive for training on the eve of the Federation Cup athletics in Patiala on Wednesday.   -  Kamesh Srinivasan

With the upcoming Asian championship - to be staged in Bhubaneswar in July - as the focus, the leading athletes understandably intend to pace themselves to peak at the right time.

Thus, the performances in the 21st Federation Cup athletics championship, shifted from Delhi to the Netaji Subhash National Institute of Sports here owing to the Nehru Stadium being readied for the Under-17 football World Cup, may not be very good, even though the athletes understand its importance.

As one of the organisers pointed out, India as the host looks to field three in each event in the Asian championship in Odisha, and it may not be that difficult for the athletes to make the cut, as some of them have already qualified for the World Championship to be staged in London in August.

The online entry list may be quite healthy with 1,100 athletes, with the men’s 100 metres alone attracting 128, but the organisers were frank in admitting that they expected about 600-700 athletes, based on the response in the recent Indian Grand Prix.

World junior champion Neeraj Chopra, who has already qualified for the World Championship and has recently joined Rajputana Rifles as a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO), hoped to have a new coach and training stints abroad in the run up to the Asian and World Championships. The Aussie coach Garry Calvert who had helped Neeraj and others to scale world standards recently quit and reportedly joined China.

No option

P.T. Usha, quite pleased with the progress shown by Jisna Mathew in women’s 400 metres, was not too happy with the shift to Patiala, but said the athletes had no option but to take everything in their stride and deliver the best results. M.R. Poovamma, who has been seeking quality competition at home and was beaten by Jisna Mathew in Delhi in the third Grand Prix, said that the open arena here as compared to the stadium in Delhi may not help the runners. She stressed that she did not wish to peak early, a mistake she had made in the past.

Poovamma was thrilled with Nirmala and Tintu Luka, apart from Jisna, pushing the clock hard in the 400 metres, as she had always believed in quality competition being the key to improve standard. Mohammed Anas has been in top form in men’s 400 metres, as he set a national record in Delhi. Arokia Rajiv must be thirsting to set the record straight. With a new coach - Galina Bukharova of the U.S. - trying to gauge the athletes, the event gains a lot of importance.

The meet will start with the 5,000 metres for women followed by the men, on Thursday morning. As usual, the National Anti Doping Agency (NADA) will test the athletes. With hurdler Jithin Paul being caught recently at this centre with the banned Meldonium, a substance made famous by tennis star Maria Sharapova, the awareness among the athletes about the impropriety of the possession of banned substances has increased manifold.

But the desire to excel and represent the country in the Asian championship or the World Championship may still drive some of the athletes towards success at all cost. Even though the meet had been shifted out of Delhi, the president and secretary of Delhi Athletics Association (Sunny Joshua and Sandeep Mehta) said that it would be a combined responsibility of Delhi and Punjab to conduct the meet in the best possible way, with suitable support from the Sports Authority of India (SAI).