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Joseph Abraham... a meet record in 400m hurdles.-PICS: R. RAGU

Though no new National marks were established there was some consolation in that five meet records were set. Among these at least two performances looked headed for National marks. Over to S.R. Suryanarayan.

In the little under a fortnight that separated the National Open in Bhopal and the National inter-state competitions in Chennai, nothing could have changed in Indian athletics. And nothing did, if one is to go by the general performances in Chennai. The meet was touted as one last chance for those on the fringes to catch the eye of the selectors as they gave the finishing touches to the list of athletes for the Asian Championship in Guangzhou from November 10 to 14.

Unlike the Olympics where the qualifying standards for Indian aspirants are tough, for the Asian Championship they seemed to be relatively reachable. The qualifying norm of third place finish in the previous edition of the Asian Championship appeared easy picking for most contestants. Perhaps the athletes concerned had similar ideas, too, for the general feeling was one of “Well, I am already there”.

However, this confidence did not translate into performances in keeping with the Athletics Federation of India’s belief that the “athletes are peaking on the right lines.” For some athletes who had fallen behind in Bhopal because of illness or injury, Chennai was a testing ground to regain the old touch. Like Bibin Mathew and Sinimole Paulouse, both 400m runners, who were down with viral fever and had just recovered.

Much was expected of P. T. Usha’s trainee Tintu Luka too in the 800m, which she had won in Bhopal to signal her emergence at the senior level.

None could touch his or her best form, but H. M. Jyothi, the Andhra girl who had missed the gold in the 100m in the National open through an ankle sprain, made amends here. But for poor K. M. Binu, the National record holder in 400m, ill-luck continued. Injury and ill-health had dogged him for a while and when it seemed he was free from his ailments, a touch of fever prevented him from participating in the 400m final. Binu was expected to give a hot challenge to S. K. Mortaja, Bibin and Harpreet Singh, the current leaders. With a 46.90s in the heats semi-final, he seemed well on course, but the fever put paid to his plans.

Though no new national marks were established there was some consolation in that five meet records were set. Among these at least two performances looked headed for National marks, the authors being Kerala athletes — Joseph Abraham in the 400m hurdles (49.91s) and Renjith Maheswary in triple jump (16.73m). “I had aimed for a 49s flat finish,” said Joseph soon after his final lunge that did not produce the expected result. The record (49.51s) set two years ago, stands in Joseph’s name and it is a reflection of his growing confidence that he felt he could erase that. “I missed the required competition,” he said with a touch of disappointment even though his effort was the best of the meet.

As for Renjith, who was the cynosure, the start was ominous (a foul jump), but a 16.73m second jump (eventually the winning jump) made even experts watching him believe that he was in the mood for a big jump. Suddenly, the National record of 17.04m in his name seemed set for a change. Again that proved a false hope as the Railway jumper’s efforts from that point lacked conviction.

Manjeet Kaur... dominant in 400m.-

Around the same time, on the far side of the arena, Renjith’s wife V. S. Sureka was attempting to ‘re-write’ the pole-vault mark. Both the meet and National records were in her name, but she could improve only the former (3.90m) by .05m.

The two other bests in the meet came from Uttarakhand athletes — Elam Singh in the 3000m steeplechase (8:43.89) and the impressive Surender Singh in the 5000m (13:61.31). Surender, who earned a few words of praise from British Olympian Tessa Sanderson, completed a distance double later.

Kerala’s M. A. Prajusha matched Surender with a jump-double (long and triple jumps). If Reshmi Bose (Kerala) was Prajusha’s close rival in the long jump, where the champion Anju Bobby George was conspicuous by her absence, then Chennai girl Gayathry Govindaraj did make Prajusha dig in for her best.

Among the others, National record holder Manjeet Kaur’s dominance in 400m was pleasing for she showed improvement in her timing, while in the discus arena, Seema Antil’s pull out with a back strain left the competition open for Harwant Kaur (Pun) and Krishna Poonia (Raj) to fight it out. The former won, but the latter’s 56.53m throw helped her also to achieve the qualifying norm.

While on the throws, the men’s shot-putter Omprakash of Haryana gained prominence with a 20m plus effort. The 20.02-metre throw brought him the gold and truly added substance to the performance level of the Chennai meet.

In the end, Kerala with 12 gold, four silver and 13 bronze medals won the overall championship, followed by Punjab (5-6-5) and Jharkhand (5-4-5). Kerala won the men’s team title (7-2-4) with Punjab (3-4-4) and Haryana (3-2-1) following in that order. Kerala also won the women’s team title (5-2-9) followed by Tamil Nadu (3-6-1) and AP (3-2-1). Joseph Abraham and Manjeet Kaur were adjudged the ‘Best Athletes’ of the meet.