Competitors from villages to the fore

Srabani Nanda of Orissa who won the girls under-20 100m.-M. MURALI

Most of the medallists were not from the cities, but from villages far removed from luxuries such as synthetic tracks and modern-day stadia. The will to win seemed more pronounced in athletes from poor backgrounds, writes A.Joseph Antony.

The Dr. Y. S. Rajashekhara Reddy Memorial Junior National Athletics Championships, held at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, recently presented a rich tapestry of India’s athletic might that abounds in its rural hinterland.

Most of the medallists were not from the cities but from villages far removed from luxuries such as synthetic tracks and modern-day stadia.

Yet many of them accomplished much, making new meet records commonplace during the five-day event that lost a day to rain. The will to win seemed more pronounced in athletes from poor backgrounds than in those donning designer wear or fancy sporting gear. One such athlete was Indrajeet Patel, hailing from village Tilikapura Soram, near Allahabad. Running around fields where his father cultivated wheat, rice or potatoes, he was convinced he had the stamina to run long distances. That proved to be no mere hunch as he smashed the 5000m record in the boys under-18 category. He clocked 14:53.69 to knock off over two full seconds from the old mark (14:55.20) held by compatriot Mukesh Kumar.

G. Gayathry won the girls under-20 100m hurdles.-R. RAGU

Coached by J. S. Bhatia at the Sports Authority of India’s South Centre in Bangalore, Indrajeet said, “Athletics is the cheapest sport. Yet, I’m always short of money, since there’s very little or none of it in this discipline.”

The opening day of the meet saw two unlikely winners in shot put — Karunakaran Subhashini (girls under-14) and Nikhil Neethin (boys under-14). Neither of them showed the flab or muscle one associates with throwers and yet both established National records. Subhashini of the St. Joseph’s Sports Academy, Coimbatore, employed the O’Brien Glide to touch 10.17m. The effort eclipsed Athira Muralidharan’s National mark by exactly a metre.

Nikhil of Mannarkad in Kerala’s Palakkad district had trained under coach Rejish Kumar with a 5.5kg orb. In Warangal, the 4.5kg ball seemed a lot lighter as he thrust it to 13.41m. In the process, he broke the National record of 12.48m held by S. Lakshmana Moorthy.

Shot put runs in Nikhil’s genes. His father P. K. Neethin was a former state record holder.

Namitha Kabat, an adivasi from Billa village in Orissa’s Keonjhar district, sped to gold in the girls under-18 half-mile event. Coached by the Tata Athletics Academy’s Satnam Singh, a contemporary and team-mate of Shiny Wilson and P. T. Usha, Namitha showed no sign of nerves, coming up with an encore to her sterling display at the Mysore edition of the meet last year. Namitha had also won the event at the Asian Youth Games in Singapore earlier this year.

Namitha’s team-mate, Srabani Nanda of Phulbani, found her grip on the track reduced by the clay clogging her spikes after rains on the previous day had rendered it wet. It was a start-to-finish affair for her though; she didn’t let the wet track affect her speed or rhythm as she clocked 12.11s in the girls under-20 100m dash.

Subhashini (Tamil Nadu) who won the girls under-14 shot put event with a meet record.-M. MURALI

In the boys under-20 section, the fastest athlete of the meet was Akash B. Rao of Karnataka, who clocked 11.08s.

Being adjudged the best athlete in the girls under-20 category should have come as some consolation for G. Gayathry. The Tamil Nadu lass leapt to 13.36m — a meet record — in the triple jump. Sadly, the lone wind gauge available for the meet had been moved to the hurdles events that were in progress at the time.

In the 100m hurdles, Gayathry was manually timed at 13.6s — a meet record — after the photo-finish equipment malfunctioned. In the heats, she timed 14.27s which was also a meet record.

Kerala emerged the overall champion with a haul of 24 gold, 30 silver and 17 bronze medals. Tamil Nadu was next with 21 gold, 18 silver and 17 bronze medals while Haryana (16-20-13) came third.

Naresh (Haryana, boys under-20), M. Ratheesh Kumar (TN, under-18), Sikanderjit Singh (Punjab, under-16) and L. Janardana Rao (AP, under-14) were declared best athletes. On the distaff side, G. Gayathry (TN, under-20), Nirupama Sunder Raj (Karnataka, under-18), Dutee Chand (Jharkhand, under-16) and Karen Mistry (Maharashtra, under-14) were adjudged the best.