Beenamol steals the show

K. P. MOHAN

COMING back into the 800 metres, at the highest level at home after a three-year gap, K. M. Beenamol clocked a season's best in Asia to add to the medal hopes in the Busan Asian Games as the penultimate National Circuit meet was gone through at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

Expectedly, there was talk of a possible double for Beenamol in the Busan Games in the wake of her 2:02.01 for the two-lap event, her personal best by a good margin. She was also being tipped to win the 400m gold ahead of Sri Lankan Damayanthi Darsha, but these are topics which could be debated well into opening time in the South Korean city.

K. M. Beenamol (175) came up with her personal best in the 800m.-V. SUDERSHAN

What was clear was that Beenamol was in top form this season and was nicely peaking towards the Asian Games. It also needed no expert's insight to spot a medal for the Kerala girl in the 800m apart from the one she was favoured to get in the 400 metres.

Behind Beenamol, Madhuri A. Singh also clocked her season best, 2:03.46 to further gladden the hearts of the coaches and the AAFI hierarchy. In the Asian Games year, the talk is always bound to be the number of medals India can win and this meet happened to be one of the last opportunities for the Asian Games aspirants before the AAFI finalised its choice for Busan.

In such a scenario, the contests should have picked up considerable momentum. But that did not happen. "They are on full load," was an oft-repeated explanation, meaning the athletes were just coming out of heavy training loads and as such could not be expected to perform at their best. "We are yet to start speed training," was another argument. A majority of the athletes had just come back from a training stint in Ukraine and Belarus and as such the fatigue factor was there, plus the time needed to adjust to the different climatic conditions. Yet one had this feeling that the athletes had not 'peaked' according to the projections made by the experts.

The exception was Beenamol and, to a lesser extent, Anuradha Biswal who set a National record in the 100m hurdles, with a time of 13.38s. That Biswal was still 0.23 secs off the qualifying norm prescribed by the AAFI should tell its own tale about our high hurdling standards.

The 800m, since the fading out of the Chinese at the highest international level, had been one of India's stronger events in the Asian context. No wonder then that there is an added interest now that Beenamol has clocked a continent-leading time. She looked to have plenty left in the reserve as she overtook Madhuri Singh through the home bend and strode majestically down the straight.

No one would have expected Beenamol to clock such a good timing, coming as she was into the National-level 800m for the first time in three years. In the event, she bettered her 2:04.88 clocked at Kathmandu during the 1999 SAF Games. The best for this season till then was the 2:02.30 by Zamira Amirova of Uzbekistan in Tashkent in June.

Biswal's National mark in a three-woman field was a surprise. The Orissa woman had been far from impressive through the season till then, clocking some miserable timings in the Asian Grand Prix circuit and finishing no better than sixth in all the three meets. She had 14.08 in Hyderabad, 14.20 in Bangkok and 13.89 in Manila. Her best for the season had been the 13.59 she clocked while winning the Federation Cup in Chennai.

In Delhi, without anyone pushing her, Biswal came through for a very good timing. The 13.38 bettered her own National mark of 13.40 clocked at the Asian championships in Jakarta two years ago. The Bhubaneshwar woman, however, has a long way to go before she can catch up with the rest of Asia. The Chinese regularly clock sub-13 timings while the other top-notchers are in the 13.10 bracket.

Much could have been expected from the men's 400m field in which only P. Ramachandran had made sure of his place in the Asian Games team. The others thus had everything to fight for. But in the end they disappointed, Ramachandran winning in a routine 46.21, Paramjeet Singh coming second in 46.45 and Satbir Singh third in 46.59. Unless our quarter-milers start clocking low sub-46s regularly, there could be little hope for an individual medal in the Asian Games.

The women's 400m, with Beenamol not bothering to exert herself after the 800m, was won by Jincy Philip in 52.80s, her second sub-53 for the season. Jincy's tussle with Manjima Kuriakose for the second slot in the individual 400m in the Indian team did produce a good contest but the timings were nothing extraordinary.

K. M. Binu clocked a 1:48.38 for the men's 800 metres. The younger brother of Beenamol was complaining of a painful knee, and considering the poor challenge posed by P. S. Primesh, this effort was not bad at all.

Gulab Chand, on his comeback after nearly two years of absence from top-level competitions because of a thigh injury, won the 3000 metres, but in an ordinary 8:17.13. Sunita Rani's 9:12.06 in the corresponding women's race was also well below par. For Sunita, there was nothing much at stake; for Gulab the sole aim was to make an impression. With no distance event likely before the team for Busan was finalised, Gulab's options were limited. "Will give it my best shot," was how he looked at the prospects of competing in the Asian Games.

The National record holder in the 100m, Anil Kumar, also coming back to top-flight competition, but after a brief lay-off, was beaten by Services team-mate Sanjay Ghosh, over the straight. The timings were ordinary, 1.50 for Ghosh, a personal best, and 1.54 for Anil. The National champion complained of lack of practice in 'starts'.

There were two comeback athletes in the women's 100m. Both Rachita Mistry and Vinita Tripathi were competing for the first time this season and as such there was considerable interest in how they would shape up since the relay team for the Asian Games was to be built around them plus Saraswati Saha. In the event, Saraswati, running into a headwind of 2.5, clocked an impressive 11.47, while both Vinita (11.83) and Rachita (11.87) looked sharp enough despite the rustiness.

The field events, India's forte at the Asian level, also failed to provide the sparks. Bahadur Singh was the only one to cross 19 metres in shot put, with the throwers hampered by a slippery circle, while in hammer throw, Pramod Tiwari could manage only 66.32 as against the listed qualifying mark of 68.50.

In women's discus, Neelam Jaswant Singh showed her superiority and consistency, but with a routine 59.44. What was more important, in the Asiad selection scenario, was the 58.32 that fetched Harwant Kaur the second place ahead of Seema Antil, bronze medallist at the World junior championships earlier this season. Seema would have been considered as the No. 2 choice behind Neelam for the Asian Games, but Harwant has had other ideas.