A disappointing show

K. P. MOHAN

From the `high' of Busan Asian Games when India won seven gold medals in athletics, the country slipped to an all-time low of `zero gold' in the 15th Asian athletics championships in Manila. India eventually ended up with just three silvers and three bronze medals.

What went wrong? That would be the natural question to ask.

There were many explanations from officials and coaches, the predominant excuse being the inability of five of the six individual gold medallists at Busan to make it to Manila. That will, of course, be the easy way out. There would have been no guarantee that Anju George, K. M. Beenamol, Saraswati Saha, Sunita Rani and Bahadur Singh would have won gold medals had they come. They would have boosted the medals tally all right. And we should leave it at that.

Neelam J. Singh, after her sensational entry into the World Championships final in Paris, with a 60.33, could manage only 58.64 in Manila. Neelam who was expected to win gold, finished with a silver.-PICS: V. SUDERSHAN

The depth in Indian athletics that so many had talked about in recent times was thoroughly exposed. The Asian championships normally provide a good stage for lesser athletes to earn laurels, but this time there could be no easy pickings, though Japan, as usual, had entered its second-string team.

There were a few other top names missing, too.

If one takes into account the inevitable `low' after the Asian Games year, that would be understandable. Add to it the end-season syndrome. But then that should be confined to just performance levels, not medal-earning capacity. And such an argument should be appli<147,1,7>cable more to those who go through the grind of international athletics rather than the Indians who were largely confined to the safe home environs throughout the season barring a few exceptions.

Yes, one notable drawback was there for the Indians. They finished their season last year with the National Games in December instead of closing it in October. Obviously, most of them started the new season late and looked to be sluggish through the domestic competitions. Theoretically at least that argument will hold water..

We should also not overlook the doping scenario in the post-Busan, post-National Games phase in the country while analysing the present performance. Though she was exonerated and given back her medals, with much fanfare, the Sunita Rani doping fiasco in the Asian Games had left a deep scar on Indian athletics and put a scare into the athletes. This is not to say that doping has been rooted out of the Indian system. Far from it. But Sunita's discomfiture was a lesson for many an aspiring dope-taker.

Of the three silvers that India earned at Manila, Shakti Singh produced his second best performance abroad just after he had come back into competition following his diploma course in coaching at the NIS, Patiala. At 41, Shakti can still putt a long way, by Asian standards, though he is nowhere near his best of 20.60. Yet, his 19.04, a season best for him, was creditable and so were four of his other throws, 18.84, 18.74, 18.85, 18.78. Qatari Saad Bilal Mubarak, with whom Shakti and Bahadur Singh had fought many a battle, won the gold at 19.41. He had another throw of 19.17 plus two others that measured over 18.50.

Shakti's best in an international has been his gold-winning effort of 19.77 at the Jakarta Asian championships in 2000. At the very same Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila, ten years ago, he had finished 10th, with just 16.37. But he had just switched to the event from discus, his forte then. He has had a big disappointment at Busan last year when he could manage only the bronze behind Bahadur and Mubarak, with 18.27.

Madhuri Singh's season's best of 4:17.87 brought her the silver behind Kyrgyzstan's Tatyana Borisova in the 1500 metres.-

Madhuri Singh's season's best of 4:17.87 brought her the silver behind Kyrgyzstan's Tatyana Borisova in the 1500 metres. She ran a well-judged race, but found Borisova unrelenting on the home straight. Timing-wise this was quite pedestrian compared to the 4:06.03 that Sunita Rani ran in Busan. But then middle distance races are invariably determined by tactics rather than timings. Madhuri's enthusiastic effort in the 800 metres, with another season best of 2:03.48, proved futile against the brilliant running of Myanmar's Yin Yin Khine. All that she could achieve was a fourth place.

The third Indian silver came through Neelam J. Singh in discus. It was rather disappointing that Neelam, after her sensational entry into the World championships final in Paris, with a 60.33, could manage only 58.64 in Manila. In the pre-meet forecasts, based on the season's performance, Neelam was in with a chance to wrest the gold from the favourite, Song Aimin. But the top Chinese did not enter and one thought Neelam had her path cleared to the pinnacle. Defending champion Li Yanfeng turned out to be as tough a customer as Song Aimin and won with a throw of 61.87. Neelam's 58.64 for the silver was around the same as she had been doing in domestic meets this season. World junior silver medal winner Xu Shaoyang of China took the bronze with 58.13. Harwant Kaur, India's second entry, silver medallist at Colombo, finished fourth with 55.89.

The three Indian bronze medals came through discus thrower Anil Kumar, woman distance runner L. Aruna Devi and the women's longer relay team. In terms of achievement, the relay team should be given quite a few marks, for the foursome of Pinki Parmanik, Manjeet Kaur, S. Geetha and Kalpana Reddy should be considered as future prospects rather than present medal contenders. That the girls clocked an encouraging 3:35.34 should augur well for India.

Anil Kumar's late arrival, after being held up in Kuala Lumpur without the Philippines visa, did cause some anxiety in the Indian camp. The man who has been training in Szombathely, Hungary, the past two seasons, could not produce his best. He said he was hampered by an ankle injury suffered a week before his departure from Hungary. He seemed to have recovered well enough, but felt the pain during the competition in Manila and had to be attended to by the team doctor, Dr. Jawahar Jain.

A bitterly disappointed Anil could only throw 59.50 metres, on his last attempt, just one centimeter short of Iranian Abbas Samimi, the silver winner. The top three placings turned out to be a replica of the Busan Asiad, with Chinese Wu Tao taking the gold at 61.43. Anil's training programme in Szombathely, at Government expense, is bound to come up for review in the season ahead.

Aruna Devi's bronze in the women's 10,000 metres, in a mediocre field, barring Chinese Sun Yingjie, was no big surprise. In a field of just six runners, the Manipur woman could have been in with a chance to take the silver, the same medal that she had won with a better timing the last time in Colombo. But that was not to be. Sri Lankan Sujeewa Jayasena, sixth last time, set a good pace early on and just managed to stay behind Sun Yingjie who was a runaway winner in 32:37.04. Jayasena clocked 34:46.99 and Aruna 37:23.28.

The other Indians then. Both the men's 4x100m and 4x400m relay teams did well enough to justify their inclusion. The shorter relay team of Sanjay Ghosh, Sandeep Sarkaria, Piyush Kumar and Anil Kumar, clocked a 39.69s to come fourth while the longer relay team of Bhupinder Singh, K. J. Manojlal, Anil Kumar Rohil and P. Shanker timed 3:05.22, also for the fourth place.

By the time Anil ran the anchor in the final of the sprint relay he was running a fever. Ghosh, too, was suffering from it, while India's best hope among men's track events, 800m runner K. M. Binu, never recovered from the fever that had gripped him since he moved to Delhi from Patiala on way to Manila. Binu never really had a chance to recover and run but the doctor gave him hope till the last moment, little realising that even if he was in a position to compete he would have just managed to go through a formality. India's other entry in the 800m, P. S. Primesh was a disappointment, going out in the heats.

Manojlal ran spiritedly for the fifth place (46.77s) in the individual 400 metres. To have qualified for the final in itself was a creditable effort by this Kerala man, not looking at the eventual timings he managed.

Shakti Singh won the silver in shot put. His 19.04 was not a bad effort.-

Gulab Chand finished fifth in the 1500m (3:46.94) and sixth in the 5000m (14:37.36). Gulab, pushing 31, is surely past his prime. There is no longer that massive `kick' in the man who used to be called `bijli' for the way he struck from around 250 metres out in a 5000 metres. The best of Japanese distance runners were not there nor was Asian Games double gold medallist Moukhled Al-Outaibi of Saudi Arabia in the fray in the 5000 metres.

Kuldeep Kumar's 3:50.04 for the ninth place in the 1500 metres came as a huge disappointment. But his 14:34.77 for the fifth in the 5000 metres, rather unfamiliar territory for him, was commendable, especially considering the extremely humid weather that was a handicap for all the distance runners.

National record holder Gurpreet Singh turned in a poor 14.30 for the last place in the 110m hurdles. A better show came from Naunidh Singh who clocked a junior National record of 14.17s in the heats though he failed to qualify.

Wayne Peppin, on his maiden foray abroad, had a 7.66m in long jump to take the eighth place. The Loyola College BA Economics student from Chennai is a bright future prospect and needs encouragement at this stage. India's other entry in long jump, Maha Singh, could manage only a below-par 7.39 and failed to qualify for the final.

Arun D' Souza's sixth place in the 3000m steeplechase (9:02.24) and Aman Saini's ninth and last place in the 10,000m in 32:47.73, more than nine seconds poorer than the woman's winner Sun Yingjie, were forgettable efforts.

Without achieving a medal, but bravely carrying on despite a hamstring strain, towards a National record and failing narrowly, was decathlete Kulwinder Singh. Three personal bests in 100m, shot put and pole vault took the Army Havildar from Sangrur to 7285, just 21 points shy of Vijay Singh Chauhan's National record set in the Munich Olympics in 1972. A poor second day effort, mainly because of below-par marks in discus and javelin, following the hamstring tug in the hurdles, left Kulwinder with a difficult task in the 1500m in his pursuit towards the National mark. His sixth place as well as his total were highly praiseworthy.

After an opening day best of 3815, P. J. Vinod, the other Indian decathlete, slumped a little on the second day and finished with 6833 for the ninth place. He, too, like Kulwinder, should be a good asset for the future.

In the women's section, the most stunning of reverses for India was Bobby Aloysius going out of the medals bracket in high jump. She could manage only 1.80 and failed thrice at 1.84m. The surprise winner was Vietnamese Bui Thi Nhung at 1.88m, a height that was within Bobby's reach. With Tatyna Effimenko of Kyrgyzstan, the gold winner at both Asian Games and Asian championships last year, not competing, and with Japanese Yoko Ota and Miki Imai also out of the fray, Bobby would have been expected to win the gold.

"It doesn't happen like that in high jump and pole vault'' reminded her English coach, Denis Doyle, who had come down from London to be at Bobby's side for this important competition. "I wasn't getting the speed,'' said Bobby. "Maybe I should have come much earlier than I did from England. My body was just not responding,'' said the Kerala woman who holds the National mark at 1.90m.

Heptathletes Pramila Aiyappa (5500) and Soma Biswas (5136) finished fifth and seventh respectively. Both were coming back from illness and injuries. Among the also-rans from India were Vinita Tripathi (24.48 in 200m heats), Sunita Kanojia (drop out at 500m in 800m final), triple jumper Manisha Dey (12.83 for ninth), hammer throwers Hardeep Kaur (58.18 for fifth) and Ritu Rani (53.30 for sixth).

Any attempt to wash this poor Indian performance down through a good collection of medals in the Afro-Asian Games at home will not help Indian athletics in its long-term perspective or in the Athens Olympics context. A realistic assessment of the talent available plus a saner reading of the results achieved at home might just help the federation take the right path. Import of coaches from the Central Asian Republics is not the answer, no matter that the ploy might have succeeded in the last Asian Games.