How many more trials?

Joseph Abraham set a National record despite the wet track at the Nehru Stadium.-R. RAGU

Contrary to the AFI's claims, the Chennai meet was not the last stop before Doha, but just another edition of the inter-state competition. S. R. Suryanarayan reports.

It was touted as the final trial for those athletes aspiring to get on the flight to Doha, where the Asian Games goes on stage from December 1-15. But then Chennai, during the monsoon, is not the right place for serious outdoor competition. Particularly this year when the wet spell began early and put the competition itself in doubt initially. However, after the rains relented the events began under floodlights, but soon the fickleness of the weather surfaced.

On the synthetic track wetness will not affect the athletes, said the President of the Tamil Nadu Athletics Association, W. I. Davaram, on the eve of the four-day championship. But he admitted that some adjustments had to be made for the field events, particularly around the throwing area.

However, the rains gave rise to doubts in the minds of the athletes who were not confident of performing to their best. And the AFI (Athletics Federation of India) officials began to speak for them. "The wetness of the old track affected the performance," said the AFI secretary, Lalit Bhanot. Consequently, the national body provided hope to those athletes who had attained the qualifying norms, but were unable to maintain that form at the Chennai meet.

The rains, perhaps, gave the AFI an excuse to keep the suspense over the composition of the Indian contingent for the Asian Games . Considering the fact that the Association had not clearly laid down the qualifying norms, but only took into consideration the usual condition of `third place at the last Asian Games or third place at the last Asian Track and Field championship — which ever is better', the fickleness of the AFI's approach became clear in Chennai when Bhanot said, "potential to win medals" is what the Federation was looking into.

Thus, we were back in familiar settings, where the details of the Indian contingent for major international events are not known until it leaves our shores. In the meantime, there is a plan for trials and re-trials to fill up the 41 slots in the athletics contingent.

After all, the Chennai meet was not the last stop before Doha, but just another edition of the inter-state competition. And viewed from that angle, the events at the floodlit Nehru Stadium provided a mixed fare, which in a way was disappointing. Considering the importance that was attached to the meet initially and the assembly of athletes who formed the very essence of Indian athletics, a great show was what everyone expected. But barring two national records and eight meet records, the competition seldom threw up stirring moments. Could the rains have had such a devastating effect?

At least Anju Bobby George had a point. The ace long jumper, who is talked about as much as P. T. Usha and Shiny Wilson were in their heyday, said she did not aim for anything beyond 6.60 metres. This was in contrast to the South Asian Games in Colombo, where Anju hit the headlines in the local media with stories about how she aimed to touch seven metres! She did not go beyond 6.42 metres then.

In the Chennai meet, Anju's best was 6.53 metres. She also fouled three jumps in the process. But then, her complaint about the poor condition of the runway at the long jump pit was valid. The undulating surface proved to be an impediment, but Anju still managed a meet record. She already holds the National mark.

With Anju being a medal prospect in Doha, the interest in long jump was on who would qualify for the second berth in the Indian team — G. G. Pramila or J. J. Shobha? The two finished behind Anju, but their result will have to wait further `studies' (read trials) by the AFI!

Initially there was an indication that Anju would also compete in the triple jump, but she dropped the idea after the long jump, where she had to encounter poor pit conditions. She, however, sprang a surprise by running the 4x100m relay. And what is more, she anchored the Tamil Nadu team to gold. Not since the Hyderabad National Games a few years ago that Anju had stepped onto the track. Perhaps she had a reason this time: she is a strong contender for a berth in the Indian relay team for Doha.

Ever since his performance in the 400m flat in the Asian Grand Prix in Bangalore and the National Open in Delhi, Joseph Abraham has become a top contender in the one-lap race. Many expected him to do a sub-50 in the 400m hurdles, but as he said, "the wet track affected me." Nonetheless this CRPF Inspector had set a National record. The only other to set a National record was Manipur's L. Deepmala Devi in the 20km walk, which was conducted in Avadi, near Chennai, for logistical reason.

Deepmala Devi of Manipur set a National record in the 20km walk.-SANDEEP SAXENA

For sheer grit and determination, Sinimole Paulose, C. Hamza and Surendra Singh deserve mention. Each completed a double, but Sinimole and Surendra set meet records.

What was really creditable about Sinimole's performance was that she had got past strong rivals such as Pinki Pramanik and S. Shanthi to top the 800m and 1500m events.

A long surviving record in Indian athletics is Mohinder Singh Gill's 16.74 metres in triple jump, which he achieved in 1971.

Ranjith Maheswary of Kerala came very close to that mark, clearing 16.50m. The effort was a meet record though, and it almost assured him of a place in the Indian team for the Asian Games. Many see in this 20-year-old triple jumper from Kollam the potential to set a new benchmark in this event.

Overall, the meet, sponsored by the Chennai Port Trust, has given a good indication of the talent in Indian athletics.

THE RESULTS Winners with records Men 400m hurdles: 1. Joseph Abraham (Ker) 50.22s (NR. Previous: P. Shankar, 50.39s, 2006 and MR, previous: Sahib Singh, 50.74s, 1998). 5000m: Surendra Singh (Uttaranchal) 13:59.46 (MR. Previous: 14:00.00, Bahadur Prasad 1995). Triple jump: Ranjith Maheswary (Ker) 16.50m (MR. Previous: 16.44m, Amarjeet Singh, 2004). Women 1500m: Sinimole Paulose (Jharkand) 4:10.51s (MR. Previous: 4:12.40s, Sunita Rani, 1999). Long jump: Anju Bobby George (TN) 6.53m (MR. Previous: G. G. Pramila 6.52m, 2000). Pole vault: V. S. Sureka (TN) 3.90m (MR. Previous: 3.50m, Chetna Solanki, 2004). Hammer throw: Hardeep Kaur (Pun) 60.79m (MR. Previous: 58.36m, K. Jobeshwari Devi, 2000). 20km walk: L. Deepmala Devi (Mani) 1:39:00.6s (NR. Previous: 1:39.30.59, Deepmala

Devi, 2006 and MR, previous: Y. Bala Devi 1:44:37.40, 2005)