A rare occasion

UNLIKE the numerous World age-group championships, the World junior meet is a very prestigious tournament. The World junior champions have often gone on to do exceptionally well at the senior level. Some World junior champions such as India's Viswanathan Anand, Russia's Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov and Zhu Chen of China have gone on to win the World championships.

That the World junior champions are no ordinary players was proved yet again at the Asian women's meet at Kozhikode, where as many as four former champions were in action. It surely must be a rare occasion for any sport to have four former World junior champions in a continental championship. They did rather well too, as three of them finished among the top four and all the four qualified for the next World championship.

And the oldest of these champions was Hoang Thanh Trang, who won the World title in 1998, incidentally at Kozhikode. The 23-year-old finished third in the tournament, and she was pleased with the effort too. She did better than her seeding (fourth).

"It was a very tough field, and I'm happy to get the bronze," said Hoang, who had won the tournament at Udaipur in 2000. "But this is a much tougher field than at Udaipur."

Zhoa Xue, who won the World juniors in 2002 at Goa, wouldn't want to differ. She was seeded second here, but was placed 13th in the end.

She may have had a forgettable outing on her latest Indian tour, but the girl definitely has the talent to go far. She is already a member of China's gold-medal winning team at the Olympiad. "I wanted to do well but I felt very bad after that stupid loss to Humpy and could not recover," she said.

Humpy, of course, was the 2001 World junior champion. She was just 14 then, and she had become only the second Indian to win the prestigious title.

Since then she's has done well in many competitions where age, and at times sex, is no bar. She is the world's youngest woman player to get the men's GM title, and she is also India's youngest GM of either sex.

The 16-year-old, the youngest among the four junior champions (she is the youngest champion in the history of the World juniors, too) rates her Asian triumph even higher than the World junior title. "Because there are more strong players here," she said.

Xu Yuanyuan, the 2000 World junior champion, was one of the strongest. She did rather well too, finishing fourth, scoring six points. Hers was actually the best score by a Chinese, of whom much was expected at Kozhikode.

"But I'm not very happy with my show here," she said. "Though the fourth place isn't bad, I was looking forward to a medal."

This may have been the first tournament in which all these talented young women fought for medals, but there should surely be many more such occasions. For, they have proved that they have already graduated to the senior level in a big way.