A mediocre show

CHAMANDA RAM'S 1:47.16 in Delhi for the 800 metres was very creditable.-R.V. MOORTHY

From the Commonwealth Games perspective, the two circuit meets failed to throw up performances that could justify selection for the Games, writes K. P. MOHAN.

`India's Dirty Dozen', said a headline in the Malaysian daily, `The Star'. It was not a reference to an Indian adaptation of the famous Hollywood movie of the 60s, starring Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson, but it was a report about the "disappearance" of a dozen Indian athletes when a World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) team made an unannounced visit to the NIS, Patiala.

The word `doping' has become routine in Indian athletics. Year after year dozens of athletes are `caught' in domestic testing; hundreds of others escape. Some are punished; some others are let free to compete. Neither the Government nor the federation has taken any credible steps to arrest the trend.

International focus had, however, not been on doping in Indian athletics barring the odd `positive' on a big stage, like Neelam J. Singh's in last year's World championships. Now, after the entire Indian team, minus long jumper Anju George, left a training camp at Potchefstroom, South Africa, in a hurry when confronted by a WADA team on a `mission' and, subsequently, WADA found a dozen athletes it was in search of, missing from the camp at Patiala, the focus has shifted to India, even if fleetingly.

It was amidst this background that two National circuit meets, touted as the selection trials for the aspirants for the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, were gone through in Delhi and at Patiala. The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) having suspended a number of athletes for their `disappearing' act (without making available a list to the media), the participation levels in both the meets were expectedly low.

Yet, for a senior national meet, considered `elite' in nature since generally only the national campers are allowed entry, the performances made one wonder whether the competitions were in a junior meet or a schools meet. Of course, exceptions were there.

One cannot remember the last time when someone won a shot put title in a senior meet with a 16.50m putt. Kuldeep Singh Mann did that at Patiala.

PINKI PARAMANIK, the winner, and Sutapa Das, the runner-up, after the 800m final in Patiala.-R.V. MOORTHY

Suffice to mention that former Asian Games champion Joginder Singh had breached the 17-metre mark 36 years ago.

Mann happened to be one among those who underwent training in South Africa. He had recorded a distance of 16.85m for the second place in the opening leg in Delhi, behind Om Prakash's 17.22. Mann incidentally was 10th on the Asian list last year, with 18.84 metres, achieved in the Delhi circuit meet.

However, Mann's marks alone were not the revelation. Amit Tyagi, a former Asian junior champion (best of 17.66 in 2001), came eighth and last in Delhi with a throw of 15.10 metres. The relatively unknown Deepak Choudhari was seventh and last at Patiala with just 12.70m!

The throws have shown the worst downward trend this season. And the bleak scenario was accentuated further by the absence of shot putters Navpreet Singh and Ranvijay Singh, and javelin thrower Jagdish Bishnoi, all through suspensions enforced by the AFI because of the `missing' episode at Patiala.

Ranvijay had shown a remarkable slump last season when he came down from an imposing 19.89 at the beginning of the season to 16.80 at the end of the season.

Navpreet, on the other hand, would have been one of the sure bets for the Commonwealth Games since he had an Asian silver to back up his claims from last season, notwithstanding the three fouls he had committed at the Manchester Games four years ago.

The form shown by woman discus throwers Harwant Kaur and Krishna Poonia should also be causing concern to the coaches and the federation. In a hush-hush competition, held ahead of the announced schedule in Delhi, Harwant won with 51.24m, more than 11 metres down on her best in 2005 while Krishna Poonia, bronze medallist at the last Asian championships in Incheon, was nearly 10 metres poorer than her best last season.

Only two competed in the event, with Seema Antil, projected as a medal prospect at the Commonwealth Games, missing out because of her suspension. The fact that Harwant's name had figured in the WADA list and the later development of women's discus being omitted from the Patiala event, only added to the mystery behind the whole episode involving the WADA visit to Patiala.

That the athletes and officials were apprehensive of another `strike' by WADA was apparent in the way the AFI dithered over the final choice of venue for the second meet. The reasons trotted out for a possible shift from Patiala to Ludhiana only contributed to further speculation about the true intentions of the federation.

One of the reasons happened to be the need to provide the middle distance runners a cooler climate than that was available during late afternoons in the North. Ludhiana had floodlights that could cope with television requirements while Patiala's newly-acquired lights were adequate for the meet but insufficient for TV. So went the argument. As it turned out, eventually the AFI settled for the lights at Patiala, but there was no Doordarshan coverage! And Patiala provided excellent weather through the day and night.

The sprinters, especially the quarter-milers, and the throwers having dominated the past few seasons, the strong claims made by the middle distance runners, even if the standards were far too low compared to the Commonwealth levels, proved a welcome development. More importantly, the middle distance athletes were not among the 40-odd batch that went on a training mission to South Africa at an enormous expenditure of Rs 1.20 crores.

None impressed more among the middle distance runners than Armyman Ghamanda Ram, whose 1:47.16 in Delhi for the 800 metres was very creditable. He was, however, beaten by former junior national champion R. Rajeev of Kerala at Patiala. Among women, Pinki Paramanik (800m) and O. P. Jaisha and Sinimole Paulose (1500m) have revived an interest that was once sustained by the likes of Geeta Zutshi, Shiny Wilson and Jyotirmoyee Sikdar. Purely from the Commonwealth Games perspective, the two circuit meets failed to throw up performances that could justify selection for the Games.

Come to think of it, less than a year ago, the AFI was thinking of entering a squad of more than 30 athletes in Melbourne!