Kerala, overall champion

Tamil Nadu's K. Prem Kumar, who made a record jump of 7.67 metres in the boys' under-18 long jump event.-PICS: K. MURALI KUMAR

The Championships offered little to be excited about, with a handful of records illuminating what was otherwise a rank farce, writes Shreedutta Chidananda.

If dark clouds shrouded the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on all three days, events on the ground were no less gloomy. The 22nd South Zone Junior Athletics Championships offered little to be excited about, with a handful of records illuminating what was otherwise a rank farce.

Kerala retained the overall title, edging out Tamil Nadu by 128 points to 119, although both states finished with 46 golds. Karnataka finished third, with a disappointing 18 golds, and Andhra Pradesh fourth. Pondicherry's claim to the wooden spoon was unassailable, its athletes failing to win a single medal at the meet.

Kerala dominated the girls' events, winning 29 of the 60 golds on offer, with Tamil Nadu likewise strong in the boys'section, accounting for 28 golds.

The meet's first record, and the opening day's only one, was set by U. Vasumathi in the girls' under-20 shot-put. The Tamil Nadu athlete threw 12.90m, well ahead of the 12.68m, set by N. Latha in 1995. Sujith Kuttan, meanwhile, emerged the fastest athlete of the championships, prevailing over team-mate M. M. Sreeraj in the boys' under-20 100m, clocking 10.7s.

Aswathi Mohanan (529), the winner in the 200 metres girls' under-20 event.-

After a largely dull first day, Prem Kumar's effort in the long jump was a breath of fresh air. Kumar leapt a remarkable 7.67m, breaking K. J. Clinton's eight-year-old record of 7.32. This was his personal best, way ahead of the 7.05 he had managed at the Federation Cup at Visakhapatnam earlier this year. The 17-year-old from Thanjavur admitted that his best in training had been only 7.30m. K. C. Dija of Kerala was among the records yet again. The pole-vaulter from Kottayam improved on her own girls' under-20 record from last year, notching up 3.30m. Jenimol Joy gave the town more reason to be proud of, breaking the girls' under-16 long jump record. The 15-year-old recorded 5.85m, to top the 5.58 set in 2003 by K. Priyadarshini and R. Aruna of Tamil Nadu.

A two-hour rain delay after lunch, on the final day, threatened to bring the curtains down on the meet sooner than anticipated, but the events eventually restarted, wet track and water-logged field notwithstanding. Karnataka's S. Harshith was thankful the boys' under-18 high jump was conducted before the heavens opened up. He leapt an impressive 2.06m, erasing L. Yogaraj's record of 2.05m set four years ago. This performance came in the wake of his record-breaking exploits at the State championships a week earlier, where he managed 2.01m. On the phone with his coach, G. V. Gaonkar all along, the 16 year-old was urged to attempt clearing 2.06m, after doing heights of 1.90m, 1.95m, and 1.99m in one attempt each. Harshith set the record after the third attempt but failed, however, to clear the 2.11m mark. J. Preeth of Tamil Nadu too was among the records, setting a new one in the under-20 boys' pole vault. Preeth vaulted to 4.70m, comfortably eclipsing K. P. Bimin's existing 4.40m mark, set six years ago.

The following were declared the best athletes: Boys: Under-20: M. Ratheesh Kumar (TN); Under-18: A. Shek Abdulla (TN); Under-16: Anbu Raja (TN); Under-14: Raja Velan (TN).

Girls: Under-20: Aswathi Mohanan (Ker); Under-18: S. Archana (TN); Under-16: C. Renjitha (Ker); Under-14: R. Varsha (Kar).

Records: Boys:

U20: 110m hurdles: M. Ratheesh Kumar (TN) 14.3s, EMR (Old: Kesava Ramani, 14.3); Pole vault: J. Preeth (TN) 4.70m, NMR (Old: K.P. Bimin, 4.40).

U18: Long jump: K. Prem Kumar (TN) 7.67m, NMR (Old: K.J. Clinton, 7.32); High jump: S. Harshith (Kar) 2.06m, NMR (Old: L.Yogaraj, 2.05).

Girls:

U20: Pole vault: K. C. Dija (Ker) 3.30m, NMR (Old: K. C. Dija, 3.20); Shot put: U. Vasumathi (TN) 12.90m, NMR (Old: N. Latha, 12.68).

U16: 100m hurdles: Meghana Shetty (Kar) 14.7s, NMR (Old: G. Gayathri, 15.2); Long jump: Jenimol Joy (Ker) 5.85m, NMR (Old: K. Priyadarshini and R. Aruna, 5.58).

* * * The minister comes calling

It was fitting that the greatest drama during the meet came courtesy of a politician and not an athlete. Gulihatti D. Shekhar, Karnataka's Minister for Textiles, Youth Services and Sports, visited the venue for an inspection of the track, forcing organisers and staff to be their grovelling and ingratiating best.

The 10-month old synthetic surface was already wearing out, with significant damage visible on the long jump runway and the 100m start. Officials from the Department of Youth Services and Sports, accompanying the minister, assured that the Swiss company that executed the project, BASF Construction Chemicals, would carry out repairs at no further cost. The department, they claimed, had withheld 40% of the payment due to the company since the results of the laboratory tests, performed to verify the quality of the surface, were still pending. The entire project had been carried out at a cost of Rs. 3.8 crore.

Swamped by a gaggle of TV cameras and reporters, the minister promised to ensure that the surface was repaired. The cracks had developed, he asserted, owing to the track being laid during the rains. Sadly, the frisson of excitement that rippled through the arena during the ministerial visit vanished with his departure.