A daunting task

Seema Antil-RAJEEV BHATT

Things have not worked out according to predictions and projections in Indian athletics. The encouraging showing in the Asian Championships, at least in terms of medals, was followed by a below-average fare at the World Championships in Osaka, writes K. P. Mohan.

At the beginning of the season there was talk of aiming for medals in the Beijing Olympics. Women’s longer relay was being mentioned ahead of any other event. Absurd though it sounded, there was also mention of women’s discus and heptathlon capable of providing Indian athletics with a rare medal in the 2008 Games. Of course, men’s discus and women’s long jump were always in the focus. To keep the debate going, the Sports Authority of India (SAI), in its wisdom, put men’s shot put also in contention among its projected medal events. Renjith Maheswary also had to figure in the calculations after his extraordinary deeds in triple jump.

You would have thought Indian athletics was poised for Olympic glory. But wait…

Things have not worked out according to predictions and projections. The encouraging showing in the Asian Championships, at least in terms of medals, was followed by a below-average fare at the World Championships in Osaka. And now, we have the sight of Seema Antil touching just 52.08m in Bhopal and Renjith Maheswary not even breaching the 16.40m mark. He had done a 16.38 in Osaka for an overall placing of 26th. The Kerala jumper had caught international attention with his 17.04 in Guwahati in June.

Renjith says he is tired after a hectic season. Was it all that hectic? The Federation Cup and an Indian Grand Prix meet in May, three Asian Grand Prix meets in June, the Asian Championships in July, the World Championships in August and now the inter-State meet in Bhopal. Eight meets in five months. Is that too much for an international athlete?

Seema Antil has said that she has been indisposed for several weeks now. The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) was apparently not aware of her illness when it named her for Osaka. The federation was also unaware when she pulled out of the squad. She was expected to aim for the Olympics qualification mark (59m for single entry, 61m for two entries) in Bhopal. Instead, she came up with 52 metres, her poorest this season.

Just three athletes, Maheswary, discus thrower Vikas Gowda and woman long jumper Anju George, have qualified for Beijing so far; intermediate hurdler Joseph Abraham is knocking on the doors. Shot putter Navpreet Singh, despite his season best 19.70m that gave him the Asian title in Amman, is still 10 centimetres off the Olympic qualification mark.

The women’s 4x400m relay team’s best this season has been the 3:33.39 in the Asian Championships in Amman. And that does not give it a place in the top 20 of the world this year. The top 16 teams of the world, based on two best performances taken from this year and next, in designated events, will line up for Beijing. The top 11 in the World Championships cracked 3:30. The Indian quartet’s 3:39 in Osaka before disqualification was abysmal. Individually, no Indian woman has broken 53 seconds for the lap this season.

If there is a growing feeling among coaches and former internationals that the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) has “made life difficult” for the Indian athletes since last year, one has to give credence to that aspect. Surely, Indian athletics has its task cut out for the Olympic year even as the AFI is reviewing its options in the coaching arena.