A ready excuse for a poor show

K. P. MOHAN

FROM a six-gold collection last time, India was left with just one gold in the Colombo meet. That came right towards the end of the championships with the women's 4x400m relay team winning in a depleted three-team field.

India had a ready excuse for its poorest show in the continental championships. Its best had not made it to the Sri Lankan capital, concentrating instead on the build-up training towards the Busan Asian Games.

With its best wrapped up in camps in Ukraine and Belarus, India managed just one gold with its second-string team, that too from a scratch 4x400m relay combination. From left: J. J. Shobha, Sunita Dahiya, Sagardeep Kaur and Soma Biswas.-RAJEEV BHATT

Could India have hoped for a better medal-haul even without its best?

The answer would be in the affirmative. After all, though second string team, there were as many as 12 athletes with international experience at the senior level, and out of that there were five who were National record holders. Two of them, high jumper Bobby Aloysius and javelin thrower Jagdish Bishnoi, were defending Asian champions.

As in the past, in many events, performances did not match those achieved by our athletes at home. This was most glaring in the throwing events, in the men's as well as women's sections. On the track, men like Gojen Singh and I. A. Shivananda who do so well in distance events at home, disappointed.

Just three medals, two silver and a bronze, from a 26-member men's squad was a poor return indeed. In comparison, the 16-member women's team did better, winning seven medals including the lone gold.

The gold might not have looked a certainty when India fielded a scratch combination in the 4x400m relay. There were two heptathletes, J. J. Shobha and Soma Biswas, one regular 400m runner, in Sagardeep Kaur, and Sunita Dahiya, an occasional one-lap runner who was essentially in the team as an 800m entry.

The girls ran spiritedly against the not-so-strong opposition that Japan and Sri Lanka provided. Since the days of P. T. Usha, India had dominated the 1600m relay, occasionally giving in to the Chinese. But this team did not look strong enough, with one of the regulars, S. Geetha, being indisposed on the eve of the race, and another member, Priya Rose, not even making the trip to Colombo due to unexplained reasons. The jubilation of the girls in the end was understandable. Only Sagardeep might make it into the relay team for the Busan Games.

Navpreet Singh (shot put) and the men's 4x400m relay team plus Bobby Aloysius (high jump), Harwant Kaur (discus) and J. J. Shobha (heptathlon) were the silver winners.

Navpreet managed 18.97 against his best of 19.45 at home. Considering his all-foul effort at the Manchester Commonwealth Games qualification stage, this was a vast improvement. Since Qatari Saad Bilal Mubarak came up with an opening throw of 19.22 metres, it was going to be tough on the rest. Jaiveer Singh's 17.02 will need closer scrutiny by the Amateur Athletic Federation of India (AAFI) since he had a best of 18.53 at home this season..

The men's longer relay silver was of no great significance since Japan did not have its top team, Kuwait withdrew and Qatar and Thailand did not even field a team. The Sri Lankans beat the Indians quite comfortably.

Bobby Aloysius could not have been expecting more than a bronze from the high jump pit since the top two Japanese, Miki Imai and Yoko Ota along with three acknowledged Central Asians were there in the fray. As it turned out, the Japanese jumped well below par, while the Kazakhs, Marina Korzhova and Svetlana Zalevskaya were also well below their best. Kyrgyzstan's Tatyana Efimenko looked strong right from the start and went up to 1.92 for the gold. Bobby tied with Korzhova for the silver and easily gained the verdict on the countback. Both went for 1.88 and failed. Imai and Zalevskaya could not go beyond 1.80 while Ota ended up with just 1.75.

Having cleared 1.87 at Manchester, competing in a tough field, Bobby was confident as she entered this competition, no matter there were five others with better personal records than her. The silver should boost her confidence further as she completes her final phase of training in Moscow prior to the Asian Games.

Harwant Kaur's 57.60 in discus was well below her best for the season, that of 60.10 she had at Bangalore in May. Chinese Li Yanfeng won with 60.06. Former National record holder Swaranjit Kaur, who had finished third in 1995 (fourth in 1998), took the bronze again, with 55.05. Harwant had a try in shot put also but ended up sixth.

Of the 10 medals that India earned, J. J. Shobha's silver was the biggest surprise. She even led into the final event of the heptathlon, 800m, but it was clear that Kazak Svetlana Kazanina will extend her reign over the crown. Kazanina had a tally of 5841 while Shobha had 5775. The Indian girl's best came in the 200m, a 24.53 that fetched her 930 points. Soma Biswas, trailing in sixth place after the first day, hauled herself up to be fourth in the end. It was an inexplicably poor show by the National record holder.

Swaranjit's bronze apart, L. Aruna Devi (10,000m) and Hardeep Kaur (hammer) won the third place for India in the women's section while Army havildar Jagannath Lakade, on his maiden international assignment, grabbed the 10,000m bronze in the men's section. Hardeep's 57.82 in hammer was once again well below her best at home (61.31m) as it was in Manchester, but then there is no longer anything new in this phenomenon.

The also-rans and the big let-downs from the Indian side included discus thrower Hridayanand Singh (55.34 for 5th; 57.55 at home), javelin throwers Jagdish Bishnoi (72.92m for 4th; 75.83 at home) and Fazal Ansari (69.59 for 8th, 75.36 at home) and hammer thrower Nirbhay Singh (59.32 for 9th; 63.59 at home).

The runners were no better, though Anand Menezes made the final of the 200 metres, coming through two rounds of heats. He even led up to about 170 metres in the final before fading away. Among the others, P. S. Primesh and Jaya Kumar (800m) and T. M. Sajeevan and Kuldeep Kumar (1500m) proved big disappointments. Primesh and Jaya Kumar failed to make the final while Kuldeep and Sajeevan finished fourth and sixth respectively in the metric mile, never really in with a chance to win a medal.

One of the few Indians who did not get a medal but all the same made a mark for himself was triple jumper Amarjeet Singh. His 16.12 for the fourth place, though short of his achievement back home, was a very creditable effort.

The Colombo meet has certainly opened up the Indian eyes. We had started patting ourselves on the back for the kind of depth we had in events like men's shot put and discus, but now find that nothing should be taken for granted, especially in the Asian Games context.