A lot left to be desired

Race-walker K. T. Irfan has already secured a berth for the Moscow World Championships.-K. MURALI KUMAR

With a big question mark over the conduct of the Asian Championship, Indian athletics will find it hard to reach the qualifying standards for the World Championships, scheduled to be held in Moscow in August, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

Indian athletes have made slow progress this season, so far. Except for the walkers, particularly K. T. Irfan, who has been regularly meeting the ‘A’ qualification standard for the World Championships, the rest have struggled to meet the ‘B’ standard.

U.S.-based discus thrower Vikas Gowda, has also been able to book his berth for the World Championships in Moscow, with understandable ease, and has made his presence felt at the Diamond League. The 29-year-old Gowda had a season-best throw of 65.82 in the U.S. and 61.97 for a sixth place finish at the Diamond League in Shanghai. He has a personal best of 66.28 metres but that is yet to be ratified as a national record.

At the start of every season when athletes are just about getting out of strenuous training stints, the marks are bound to be unimpressive but Olympic semifinalist, Tintu Luka’s lacklustre performance in 800m at the Shanghai Diamond League was still a disappointment. She clocked (2:03.61) and finished ninth among ten runners.

Tintu had missed the domestic circuit and the national federation unjustifiably intervened and hijacked her plans of competing in the Asian Grand Prix in Thailand and Sri Lanka, by seizing her invitation for the meets. The runner was training well but lacked competition practice and failed to come even remotely close to her coach P. T. Usha’s projection of clocking her personal best of 1:59.17. In fact, nobody could clock that time at the Shanghai meet which had some of the world’s elite athletes competing. Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi won with a time of 2:00.33 which is the world’s leading time for this season.

24-year-old Tintu clocked 1:59.69 at the London Games, far from her personal best, that would have earned her a spot in the finals. The last entry for the London final in the 800 metres was made at 1:59.45.

With a big question mark over the Asian Athletics Championships slated to be held in the country, time is running out for Indian athletes to qualify for the World Championships to be held in Moscow in August. The Asian meet has already been shunted from Chennai to Ranchi and then Delhi, with the authorities now talking about the Pune as a possible venue. The likes of Tintu Luka and Olympic finalist discus thrower, Krishna Poonia, do have invitations for the big league events that enhance their chances for qualification, but others will find it hard to make the mark.

23-year-old M. R. Poovamma, a 400m runner, has been consistent this season and clocked 53.59 at the second Indian Grand Prix in Patiala. She came very close to the World Championships qualification mark of 52.35 at the Federation Cup with a personal effort of 52.75 and thereafter has clocked 52.97, 53.30 and 53.57 in three of the Asian Grand Prix meets in Thailand and Sri Lanka respectively, making it a hat-trick of gold medals.

“All the three races were in the afternoon. It was very hot and humid. There was not much competition to push me,” recalled Poovamma, promising better times ahead.

Another athlete who has come into prominence is Arokia Rajiv who has been dominating the men’s 400 metres this year. The lad from Tiruchi won two legs of the Asian Grand Prix with timings of 46.54 and 46.63 and had clocked 46.91 to finish second in Bangkok, the venue of the first Asian meet.

It was an encouraging sign, as Arokia Rajiv had clocked 47.55 and 47.22 in the two Indian Grand Prix meets, before equalling his personal best of 46.57 at the Federation Cup. The World Championships qualification mark of 45.60 may look distant but with the right exposure and training, Arokia might surprise everybody.

There was a lot of excitement when Siddhant Thingalaya won the men’s 100m with a time of 10.55 seconds in the Federation Cup. But he has failed to make a mark in his pet event 110m hurdle. Thingalaya, who is supported by the Jindal Steel Works Foundation, after having enjoyed the support of the Mittal Champions Trust for the last two years for his training stints in Gold Coast, Australia, with Sharon Hannan, has failed to make the most of the opportunities.

Vikas Gowda will like to leave a mark at the World Championships.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

After missing out on an Olympic qualification because of an injury sustained in Brussels, Thingalaya clocked 13.88, 13.90 and 13.81 in the Asian Grand Prix series, while picking up silver, bronze and gold in that order. But with a personal best of 13.65, he is far away from the World Championships qualification mark of 13.50.

The high jumpers, Jitin Thomas and Nikhil Chittarasu, have been regularly jumping 2.21 metres, but the qualification standard of 2.28m looks a tough act for the two. Thomas won two gold medals and a silver medal in the Asian Grand Prix, while Chittarasu won a silver and a bronze. In the Federation Cup, Chittarasu had bagged the gold ahead of Thomas.

Olympian Renjith Maheswary and Arpinder Singh enjoy a healthy competition in men’s triple jump. Both, however, have been narrowly missing the (World Championships) qualification mark of 16.85m. While Arpinder jumped 16.84m in the Federation Cup, Maheswary, with a national record of 17.07m, jumped 16.83m at the first Asian Grand Prix in Bangkok. Between them, the two have accounted for a gold, two silver and three bronze medals in the Asian series.

Nitendra Singh won two gold medals — in the 5000m and the 3000m — ahead of Kheta Ram in the Asian series, but the timings were far from impressive. Needing 13:20.00 for World Championship qualification, the best Nitendra managed was 14:35.03. Kheta Ram who had raised many eye brows when credited with a timing of 13:15 in the first Indian Grand Prix, before it was hurriedly withdrawn owing to an error in judging the race, timed 14:41.91 as his best in the Asian series.

Needing to equal her national record of 1.92m (high jump), that had seen her qualify for the London Games, Sahana Kumari could not go beyond 1.86m in the Asian Grand Prix. The case of Krishna Poonia (discus throw) who has a national record of 64.76m was more glaring. The Commonwealth Games gold medallist threw 59.43m in the second Asian Grand Prix at Chonburi, Thailand, seven centimetres short of the World Championships qualifying standard.

Poonia threw 57.25 in the Federation Cup and 55.80 in the Diamond League in Doha and needs to pick up her performance as the season progresses. Olympian short putter Om Prakash Singh faces a similar problem and has a poor season best (18.65m), despite a personal best of 20.69m.

However, there were plenty of medals for the Indian athletes in the Asian Grand Prix series — 13 gold, 10 silver and 11 bronze medals in all — but the quality of performance was far below the expected standard.