Binu in spotlight

THE Olympics qualification race is truly on. Oh, to be an Olympian! It is of course a great feeling for those who have not been on that stage.

K. P. MOHAN

THE Olympics qualification race is truly on. Oh, to be an Olympian! It is of course a great feeling for those who have not been on that stage. "Have I qualified for the Olympics? I can't believe it,'' said K. M. Binu shortly after he clocked an incredible 45.59 seconds for the 400 metres in New Delhi. It was the second best timing by an Indian behind Paramjeet Singh's National record of 45.56s and a huge improvement over his previous best of 47.09. The qualifying standard for the Athens Games stood at 45.95s.

K. M. Binu winning the 800m in Patiala. His time was just 0.89s outside the Olympic qualifying standard. However, he clocked 45.59s in the 400m in New Delhi, which was well within the mark for an Athens Games berth. -- Pic. V. SUDERSHAN-

This was the first National circuit meet and in the second one, at Patiala, the Kerala youngster timed 1:47.89s, just 0.89s outside the Olympic standard for the 800 metres.

Binu should be picking the 800m as his individual event at Athens, if he can achieve the norm, and hope at the same time that the 4x400m relay team will also be making the grade. If it does, he should be part of the quartet.

Anil Kumar (109), who won the 200m event in New Delhi and Patiala. — Pic. V. SUDERSHAN-

If nothing works, he has a norm in the 400m in his kitty.

The Delhi meet was expected to be an Anju Bobby George show. The World championships bronze medallist was competing for the first time this season; she was the one Indian athlete that everyone had been talking about and she looked confident of a good performance on the eve of the meet.

After jumping 6.66m, no mean performance for a season-opener, both Anju and husband and coach Bobby George, however, felt disappointed. They had expected closer to 6.80m. "This is the worst series I have jumped the whole of this season,'' said Anju. Not that she had competed elsewhere this season, but she was referring to her jumps in training sessions in Bangalore.

"I expected a series of good jumps,'' said Bobby George. "Obviously she has not got into her rhythm yet,'' he added.

K. M. Beenamol (321) racing to the finish of the 800m ahead of Madhuri Singh (320) in Patiala. Madhuri had claimed the event in New Delhi. -- Pic. V. SUDERSHAN-

With everyone talking about consistency at around the 6.80m mark, with the possibility of reaching towards 7.00m this season, the pressure is on Anju and Bobby. If she had reached a top mark, something up to 6.80 or beyond, Anju would have got the right impetus to launch her Grand Prix campaign this season. Even as they lament the inadequate facilities at Bangalore, Anju and Bobby are confident that things will fall into place in time for the Olympics. In that respect, 6.66 was not bad after all. Come to think of it, she had opened with a 6.47m at Modesto, US, last season. She went on to win the World championship bronze at 6.70m, her second best distance behind her National mark of 6.74m.

At the time of the first circuit meet, when the top contenders were yet to take off in the outdoor season, Anju's 6.66 was the third best mark in the world this season, behind Australian Bronwyn Thompson's 6.72 and 6.68. (On April 21, Chinese Guan Yingnan jumped 6.71m at Guilin).

J. J. Shobha, who has already obtained a heptathlon-qualifying norm, produced a personal best 6.56m to challenge Anju, but in the end it was far from sufficient. Shobha's improvement in the event, from 6.36m last year to 6.50 in the Federation Cup and to 6.56 now should augur well in heptathlon in the Athens context.

Anju Bobby George picked up the long jump gold with a leap of 6.66m, which was no mean show in a season opener. -- Pic. V. SUDERSHAN-

With Anju around, much of the media focus was understandably on her in Delhi, though Binu would have deserved a share of the spotlight at least for his fluent running in the 400 metres, if not that awe-inspiring 45.59.

"This boy should be the first Indian to crack the 45-second barrier,'' exclaimed Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, the Tokyo Olympics finalist in the 110m hurdles, as he watched the Kerala youngster stride confidently through the finishing straight. Binu felt in the end that he had still something left in him and had he been pushed he could have easily bettered the National record.

Binu was equally impressive in Patiala as he tackled his first 800m for the season. His third best timing for the two-lapper should give the Asian Games silver medallist the confidence he needs to face the tougher tests ahead. Of course, it will be futile to expect too much in his first Olympics.

Neelam J. Singh grabbed a double, winning the discus at both the meets. — Pic. V. SUDERSHAN-

Binu's elder sister K. M. Beenamol, in the meantime, has come back to the track after a gap of 18 months. She ran a 2:05.86 for the 800m at Patiala.

She will have to do a lot better than that in the coming weeks if she is to qualify in an individual event for the Olympics. The standard is a stiff 2:01.30.

"I know where I stand now. I was nervous, running after so many months.Now I can try out a few things, see what my speed is and then choose between the 400 and 800,'' said Beenamol, aiming to make her third straight Olympics team. "Running a relay leg will not be a problem.''

J. J. Shobha, winner of the 100m hurdles in New Delhi. -- Pic. V. SUDERSHAN-

There are several contenders in the longer relay, where the team should have a good chance of making the top-16 grade in the world, the norm required to get into the Olympics field. Manjit Kaur ran a 51.90s in Delhi, the third sub-52 by an Indian behind Beenamol (51.21) and P. T. Usha (51.61). Following her to the finish, Rajwinder Kaur clocked a 52.01, Chitra K. Soman 52.81 and Jincy Philip 53.16. S. Geetha who timed 52.25 in the Islamabad SAF Games was only fifth in 53.86. The Olympic qualifying mark in the 400m is 52.30s for a single entry and 51.50s for two or three entries.

Neelam J. Singh had a 60.76 in New Delhi and a 59.08 at Patiala. The Punjab discus thrower had recently returned from a longish training stint in South Africa and was expected to do better than this. Harwant Kaur came up with a personal best of 60.69 in the first meet but was down to 58.53 in the second. The one girl, who was expected to run both Neelam and Harwant close, Seema Antil, failed. She had 56.14 and 58.39. A hamstring injury was blamed for her below-par form after she had reportedly crossed 64 metres in a local competition in Punjab.

The men's shot putters, expected to easily make the Olympic standard, had a tough contest in Delhi, Bahadur winning at 19.72, Shakti fouling his first three and Navpreet touching 19.39. Navpreet surprised both his experienced rivals in Patiala, with an opening round 19.58. Shakti, a late starter this season with his training, had a 19.43 while Bahadur had 19.28. The single entry Olympic norm is 20.00, while the double entry standard is 20.30. The federation has talked about the possibility of all three making it.