Hoping to do better

Manikanta Raj... Chennai’s loss is Vijayawada’s gain.-CH. VIJAYA BHASKAR

The year 2013 has been a fruitful one for Manikanta Raj as he won gold in 100m and 4x100 relay and a bronze in 200m in the Open Nationals held in Chennai. A profile by J.R. Shridharan.

A legal hitch in securing a job in Southern Railway forced Murugaiah Manikanta Raj, a promising athlete, to look beyond Chennai, which nurtured him as a competent sprinter. South Central Railway took him in its fold and since then the gangling Manikanta Raj has emerged as a jewel in the SCR crown with a series of medal-winning sprints in the premier domestic athletic meets.

The 26-year-old athlete, a former trainee at Chennai-based Karl Marx Athletic Club and Kannaiah Athletic Club, is among the top six sprinters in the country vying for a berth in the Indian team for the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. He clocked a personal best of 10.55 seconds in the 100 metres at the 2012 Federation Cup in Patiala to emerge as the fastest man of the meet.

“I am preparing for two crucial events in June and August which are the selection meets for the Incheon Asian Games and Glasgow CWG,” says Manikanta Raj, a ticket examiner at Vijayawada Junction, who trains with coach S. Srinivas at the Railway Stadium.

The hardworking athlete came up the ranks since 2007. “I am a product of the Tamil Nadu Athletic Association which nurtured me from my teens. I made a mark in the junior Nationals and at the age of 23 when everything was looking bright disaster struck. I was short-listed for a 45-day camp in Ukraine under Russian sprints coach Dmytro Vanyaikin for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. But the training stint ended in a fiasco as I got injured owing to overload. I tore a ligament in my knee. I underwent surgery and was out of action for a few months,” recollects Manikanta Raj.

The promising athlete went into depression following his non-participation in the CWG in New Delhi. “I was picked for the 4x100 relay team. But fate made me watch the proceedings from the sidelines,” bemoans Manikanta Raj.

But undeterred by the turn of events, Manikanta Raj, after a thorough rehab programme, came back stronger, winning medals in three of his pet events — 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay in several domestic meets.

Manikanta Raj at a training session with coach S.Srinivas in Vijayawada.-CH. VIJAYA BHASKAR

Following his fine showing in Patiala, Manikanta Raj took his maiden flight to Bangkok to appear in his first international event, the Asian Grand Prix athletics championship. “I was part of the Indian quartet which won the bronze medal in the 4x100 relay,” he says.

The year 2013 has been a fruitful one for Manikanta Raj as he won gold in 100m and 4x100 relay and a bronze in 200m in the Open Nationals held in Chennai. “I also did well in the Ranchi Federation Cup, winning gold in 200m and 4x100 relay and a bronze in 100m,” says the star athlete. Last year also proved to be a testing period as he injured his heel that necessitated a surgery.

Making it to the Indian contingent is not that easy and Manikanta Raj knows it very well. He also foresees intense competition from young athletes such as Amiya Kumar Mallik, an Odisha lad, who is currently undergoing a coaching stint with Usain Bolt’s coach Glen Mills in Jamaica.

National sprint coach Nagapuri Ramesh from Patiala says: “To make a podium finish in the Asian Games one should clock around 10.20/30 seconds and in CWG one should register 10.10/30. Mani (Manikanta Raj) is clocking around 10.55 seconds which is encouraging. But he should be prudent enough to stay away from injuries and also improve his timing.”

In the 200m, Manikanta is clocking around 21.40 seconds. The bronze medal-winning timing in the Guangzhou Asian Games was around 20.80 seconds and in the Delhi Commonwealth Games it was 20.52 seconds.

Manikanta Raj reckons that he is a bit slow in his start in the 100m. “I need to produce an explosive start and be quick in the first 30 metres. I also need to improve my speed endurance in the 200m which requires astute time management.”

The affable athlete holds the sport close to his heart for it not only gave him social recognition but also his life partner, 400m hurdler Elavarasi from Chennai who represents Indian Bank. “She has been my pillar of strength and takes care of my preparations for the crucial meets,” signs off Manikanta Raj.