Kerala on a roll

The victorious Kerala team.-

The meet assumed importance as the top coaches of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) were present on all five days to witness and assess the performances of the future stars, writes J. R. Shridharan.

The Kerala juggernaut, for the third time in a row, steamrollered its rivals to clinch the top spot in the Jio 30th National Junior Athletics Championship in Vijayawada. Helping ‘God’s Own Country’ to achieve the feat were its gritty girls who garnered a whopping 361 out of 528.5 points.

Haryana, led by its strapping lads, was a distant second with 394. Tamil Nadu showed its consistency by finishing runner-up in all four categories on the distaff side.

The meet assumed importance as the top coaches of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) including Russian coaches Alexander Artsybashev and Dimitry were present on all five days to witness and assess the performances of the future stars. It was heartening to see some of the long-standing National records rewritten, sending the message loud and clear that things are moving in the right direction. More than a dozen meet records were scripted which is also a reminder that the athletes, coaches and the administrators are putting their best foot forward in aiming for Asian and world standards — the overage and doping menace notwithstanding.

“Our aim is the 2020 Olympics. There are many talented athletes in all age groups and the AFI, with the help of the coaches, will shortlist the probables,” said the AFI secretary C. K. Valson. “We have identified 400 relay, discus, walking, long jump, triple jump, (all women) and shot put (men) as medal-winning events.”

The selected athletes will be given extensive coaching stints both in the country and aboard under the supervision of the foreign coaches. Absence of a synthetic surface disappointed some athletes as they were forced to adjust their techniques and skills to suit the surface. “Modern-day athletes perform and train on the synthetic surface. Performing in a non-synthetic arena will take the sheen out of the very performance,” a top coach said.

Among the noteworthy performers, Haryana’s Beant Singh stood out as he won the 1000m event in the u-16 category with an impressive record-breaking timing of 2 min 27.87 secs. “He is a bright prospect. In fact, he posted the world’s leading timing in the 800m during the senior Open meet in Delhi recently,” Jaswanth, Haryana’s coach, said.

Priyanka was brilliant in the 10,000m walk. She shifted to the SAI Centre in Bangalore recently to train under Russian coach Alexander and it provided the required result. She made history by eclipsing the national mark with a timing of 49:16.51 seconds. Trained under Brij Kishore Vajpayee, Priyanka had already proved her mettle with an amazing 48:30.35 timing for the above distance during the North Zone junior athletics championship in Lucknow recently. However her performance in Lucknow will not be considered for record purposes in the absence of doping control procedures.

The high jump events witnessed three National records. Drawing the attention of the coaches were Gayathry Sivakumar and Sreenith Mohan. Ernakulam’s teen sensation Gayathry, 13, cleared the bar with a 1.61m effort, bettering her own mark (1.59m) set in Kochi. “No doubt she is on a roll. Everything appears right with her but we have to wait and watch as she is just growing up. The impending physiological changes will determine her future as a high jumper,” said Annavi, an 11-time National champion in high jump.

There was also talk about Gayathry pursuing long jump alongside high jump. “Prevention of injury is paramount in an athlete’s life. At some stage Gayathry should give up long jump to concentrate on high jump,” a senior national coach said.

The mercurial Sreenith Mohan was the darling of the crowd as he arrived at the pit wearing spikes of two different colours. “One spike was gifted by Nikhil, the national record holder and the other belongs to the Ukrainian coach Nikitin’s favourite disciple, who is a world class jumper. I wear them as an inspiration,” the Thrissur jumper said.

The ‘showman’ cleared 2.18m in his very first attempt thus erasing the mark of 2.17m set five years ago by Tamil Nadu’s Nikhil Chittarasu. “He needs to make certain corrections especially in the run-up and over the bar. He is a bright prospect,” Annavi said.

The record-breaking jump by Uttar Pradesh’s Varun Kakran came under a cloud as he looked too old for the under-14 event. “A 14-year-old boy clearing 1.86 meters effortlessly! Impossible,” an administrator opined.

Shot putter Shakti Solanki set another national record. He added the boys’ title to the u-14 and u-16 records which are already in his name. The Delhi boy had no worthy opposition to his amazing 20.21m toss with the five kg iron ball. He erased the six-year-old national mark of 19.91m held by Punjab’s Jasdeep Singh and the 18.67m meet record by Surender Singh of Haryana since 2011.

Haryana javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, the record-holder in the u-16 age-group, won the boys’ category too as he sent the spear soaring to an Indian best of 76.50m. Neeraj had already represented India in the World Youth Championships in Donetsk, last year.

Tamil Nadu’s N. Vivekanandan (u-18 boys’ decathlon) and Uttar Pradesh’s Parul Chaudhary (u-20 girls’ 3000m steeplechase) were the other record-breakers.

Renowned trainer Nagapuri Ramesh said: “Kerala’s Jisna Mathew (200m and 400m) is the future middle distance runner. Her timing in the 200m is a reminder that she can excel in 400m and 800m in premier meets. She has both an explosive start and gradual acceleration.”

Kerala’s P. U. Chitra, Tamil Nadu’s N. Priyadharshni and R. Naveen were some of the other athletes who showed great promise.