A glutton for work

When she withdrew from the final of the Open National in Delhi in October, complaining of an upset stomach, there were doubts whether she would be able to tackle the Asian Games two months hence. Manjeet Kaur not only proved herself in subsequent meets but also delivered when the crunch came — the silver in the individual 400 metres and a brilliant anchor in the longer relay that fetched the solitary gold for the country in athletics in Doha. And this despite the burns she suffered on her thighs reportedly through a spilled bowl of soup.

In a season when the quarter-milers in both sections have struggled to post decent timings, Manjeet's 52.17 seconds for the silver behind Kazakh Olga Tereshkova was an excellent effort. No one thought she or any other Indian was capable of such a timing the way the women kept clocking 53-plus through October and November. It was a different matter that she had timed 53.02 in Delhi in March and 52.58 for the seventh place the same month in the Commonwealth Games.

It was in the build-up to the Olympics in 2004 that Manjeet came into prominence with her national record of 51.05 in Chennai that erased K. M. Beenamol's mark of 51.21s. The 24-year-old Punjab woman was to play a major role in the Indian longer relay team making the final at the Athens Games, but she took no part in the final, indisposed as she was the previous night.

Next year Manjeet confirmed her status with an effortless win in the Asian Championships in Incheon in 51.50. The rest of Asia looked in awe as Manjeet and Satti Geetha both clocked sub-52 to take the gold and silver.

An Inspector with the Punjab Police, Manjeet had come into national limelight by claiming the silver in the Asian Junior Championships in Brunei in 2001. She had clocked 54.11 then after timing 53-plus at home.

"If anyone can better 50 seconds in India it is Manjeet only," says the former National coach, J. S. Saini who was the chief junior coach at Brunei. "For, she has the desire to work and punish herself."