LOP-SIDED CONTESTS

PINKI PARAMANIK-VIVEK BENDRE

Rypakova happened to be one of the 11 athletes who completed a sweep of titles in the circuit this year. Even as we applaud the hat-trick performers, including Indians Pinki Paramanik and Mahan Singh, the sweep through the three legs by so many athletes only suggested how lop-sided the contests were, barring of course exceptions, writes K. P. MOHAN.

Even in defeat Anju Bobby George was their heroine. The crowd at Pune's Baburao Sanas ground could not wait for the men's 3000 metres to finish to get close to Indian athletics' lone international star. She was mobbed to the bewilderment of many, including foreign athletes.

Anju had made light of a heel injury to compete at Bangalore and Pune after having skipped the Bangkok leg of the Asian Grand Prix circuit. Was she not risking her Asian Games build-up by competing?

"We have to compete when such meets are held at home." Pat comes the reply. If there was a touch of disappointment that she could not win in front of home fans, Anju hid that well while arguing that placings really did not matter in such meets. Her aim for the year was the Asian Games plus the World Cup. In the long-term perspective, of course it was the Olympic Games, the one medal she does not have in her collection.

Injuries during a crucial period of a season can be unsettling for most. Anju and husband-coach Bobby George have taken it rather philosophically. Anju said she had no regrets competing with the injury and finishing second in the two Grand Prix meets.

MAHAN SINGH-VIVEK BENDRE

Anju jumped 6.35m (Bangalore) and 6.46m (Pune) to take silver medals behind Kazakhstan's Olga Rypakova, better rated as a heptathlete, who swept the long jump titles in the three legs with her best of 6.61m coming at Pune.

Rypakova happened to be one of the 11 athletes who completed a sweep of titles in the circuit this year. Even as we applaud the hat-trick performers, including Indians Pinki Paramanik and Mahan Singh, the sweep through the three legs by so many athletes only suggested how lop-sided the contests were, barring of course exceptions.

Where there were close contests, performance levels invariably reached a different plane to be clubbed with the world's best. Two such events were the men's 400 metres hurdles and women's high jump. Both produced world top-15 performances for the season. Significantly, the men's 400m hurdles also provided the only Indian record that came from the circuit, with P. Shankar clocking a 50.39 seconds in Bangalore.

Chinese Meng Yan's national record of 49.03 seconds in the 400 metres hurdles in Bangalore was one of the high points of the circuit. The 26-year-old Chinese had posted a 49.19 for a national record at Nanjing last year and in a close battle with Yevgeniy Melshenko of Kazakhstan, he won three golds on the trot while bettering his record in the process.

Woman high jumpers Marina Aitova of Kazakhstan and Tatiana Efimenko of Kyrgysztan took the contest to great heights at all the three venues. Both cleared 1.94 metres at Bangkok, with Aitova winning on a countback. Aitova won again, at Bangalore, with 1.94. Eventually, Pune saw Efimenko live up to her stature as the Asian Games and Asian champion by winning, with the Kazakh taking the silver at 1.92 metres. By the time the circuit ended, Efimenko and Aitova were the joint sixth best performers for the season in the world lists.

Without being pushed and yet coming up with a world top-10 performance was Chinese woman discus thrower Song Aimin. Expectedly, she won all the three legs, but her best came only at the end, a 63.44m at Pune that put her as the sixth best woman in the world this season.

Apart from Efimenko and Song Aimin, there were two Asian champions from India, Anju George and Manjeet Kaur. Manjeet did not win a race through the circuit, getting third place in all meets. She complained of a back injury as the reason for her below-par show.

From the medal-winning perspective, the focus through the three legs on the Indian side was on Pinki Paramanik. The 800 metre runner from Bengal won the 400-800 double at Bangalore and Pune and she also joined the hat-trick performers, having won the 800 metres at Bangkok.

That she managed to clock two career bests during the circuit, 52.46s for the 400 at Bangalore and 2:03.23 for the 800m at Pune, should augur well for Indian athletics when one takes Pinki's performance into consideration in the Asian Games perspective.

Considering that Bahrain's Maryam Yusuf Jamal, a sub-two-minute 800m and sub-four-minute 1500m runner, should be the overwhelming favourite in the two-lap event, should she compete, Pinki's best chance for a gold has to come in the 400 metres.

She has mentioned a target of sub-50s for the event by the time the Doha Games come around, but that looks an extremely optimistic mark for someone who has been clocking only around 53-sec-plus the past two seasons. Not many experts are convinced that Pinki would be able to maintain her form into the Asian Games.

Another Indian athlete who made it three in a row was long jumper Mahan Singh. His 7.55 at Bangkok was uninspiring but the opening leg had produced a string of mediocre performances in all events because of the rains and high humidity that an improvement was always on the cards. Mahan Singh managed 7.69m and a season best 7.73m in the next two legs.

It was interesting to note that Shiv Shankar Yadav, a talented, explosive jumper from Uttar Pradesh, touched 6.70m to challenge Mahan Singh in Pune.

It was also pertinent to note that national record (8.08m) holder Amritpal Singh had 6.34, 6.49 and 6.41 in the three meets. The long jumpers have shown great promise the past two seasons; they have also been disappointing at big meets like the Asian championships. It is for the coaches and the federation to find out the reasons for such slump.

Talking of slump, javelin thrower Sunil Kumar Goswami has touched a `low', 67.22m at Bangalore and 63.84m at Pune. Goswami had a best of 74.66m last year. Jagdish Bishnoi, the national record holder, competed only at Bangkok and finished fifth with 67.69m. In his absence, Anil Singh, a relative newcomer to the national squad, won at Bangkok (72.87) and Pune (74.19). The man who could have dominated the event, Chinese Li Rongxiang, was not entered.

The return to form of high jumper Hari Sankar Roy who won two gold medals (2.21m at Bangalore and 2.18m at Pune) has been another encouraging aspect from the Indian viewpoint. Roy had missed almost the entire 2005 season because of a persistent back problem that had defied diagnosis for quite some time.

Navpreet Singh went up to 19.84m in Bangalore and promised to cross 20 metres at Pune but the Punjab shot putter could manage only 19.29, taking the silver behind Chinese Zhang Qi for a second time. Apart from Meng Yan, Mahan Singh, Pinki, Rypakova and Song Aimin, those who scored the hat-trick were: Wen Yongyi (China, 100m), Rohan Pradeep Kumara (Sri Lanka, 400m) and Ehsan Mohajershojaei (Iran, 800m) among men and Guzel Khubbieva (Uzbekistan, 200m), Feng Yun (China, 100m hurdles) and Zhang Guirong (Singapore, shot put) among women.

The Asian Grand Prix circuit was conceptualised four years ago with the `elite' athletes of the region in mind. Through the years, the top athletes have gradually shunned the circuit, leaving the stage for the lesser-ranked and even unknown athletes, to try their luck at getting an attractive purse.

This year, even that attraction dwindled considerably as the Asian Athletics Association (AAA), of which Suresh Kalmadi is the president, managed to find only 1,50,000 dollars for the whole circuit compared to around $1,90,000 the previous year.

This is not to suggest that money alone attracts athletes; there are other factors as well. But prize money is an important ingredient. That India had to shoulder the burden of hosting two of the three meets in this year's circuit should indicate the lack of interest among some of the leading athletics nations in the region. In 2003, the circuit had involved four meets, but since then it has been reduced to three.

The AAA was to have chosen the `top six' in each event and left two entries for the host country. As it turned out, the continental association could not rope in six athletes each in a majority of the events and the Indians benefited, at least in terms of participation, especially when the second and third legs were held in Bangalore and Pune. That not a single Asian champion in the men's section was entered should help put the Indian performance in perspective.

On the anti-doping front, it was baffling that just six samples each were collected from the three legs. Lack of funds was cited as the reason for such an inadequate number being subjected to the tests. Even the average performances achieved by many athletes, especially Indians, will be viewed with suspicion when one takes into account the `for-the-record' anti-doping exercise. One wonders why the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) which talks so much about fresh initiatives being taken in the fight against doping cannot partially fund the dope control programme of the regional bodies like the AAA. Then and then alone will athletics gain credibility.

The results: BANGKOK: Men:

100m: 1. Wen Yongyi (CHN) 10.30, 2. Wachara Sondee (THA) 10.43, 3. Seksan Wongsala (THA) 10.49; 400m: 1. Rohan Pradeep Kumara Fernando (SRI) 45.81, 2. Prasanna Sampath Amarasekara (SRI) 46.42, 3. Li Guangiin (CHN) 47.27; 800m: 1. Ehsan Mohajershojaei (IRI) 1:53.26, 2. Francis Sagiaraj (IND) 1:53.75, 3. Li Guangming (CHN) 1:54.22; 3,000m: 1. Chen Mingfu (CHN) 8:25.14, 2. Sunil Kumar (IND) 8:25.93, 3. Pritam Bind (IND) 8:26.75; 400m Hurdles: 1. Meng Yan (CHN) 49.86, 2. Yevgeniy Meleshenko (KAZ) 50.04, 3. Joseph Abraham (IND) 51.89.

High Jump: 1. Jean Claude Rabbath (LIB) 2.21, 2. Nguyen Duy Bang (VIE) 2.18, 3. Hari Sankar Roy (IND) 2.14; Long Jump: 1. Mahan Singh (IND) 7.55, 2. Roman Valiyev (KAZ) 7.50, 3. Li Xin (CHN) 7.48; Shot Put: 1. Zhang Qi (CHN) 19.00, 2. Navpreet Singh (IND) 18.61, 3. Ahmad Gholoum (KUW) 18.27;Javelin: 1. Anil Singh (IND) 72.87, 2. Liu Yanhong (CHN) 70.76, 3. Rinat Tarzumanov (UZB) 70.37.

Women

200m: 1. Guzel Khubbieva (UZB) 23.29, 2. Susanthika Jayasinghe (SRI) 23.45, 3. Zhu Juanhong (CHN) 24.18; 400m: 1. Olga Tereshkova (KAZ) 53.53, 2. Pinki Paramanik (IND) 53.86, 3. Manjeet Kaur (IND) 54.86; 800m: 1. Pinki Paramanik (IND) 2:07.08, 2. Zamira Amirova (UZB) 2:08.57, 3. Viktoriya Yalovtseva (KAZ) 2:08.73; 100m Hurdles: 1. Feng Yun (CHN) 13.25, 2. Natalya Ivoninskaya (KAZ) 13.58, 3. Dedeh Erawati (INA) 13.85.

High Jump: 1. Marina Aitova (KAZ) 1.94, 2. Tatiana Efimenko (KGZ) 1.94, 3. Anna Ustinova (KAZ) 1.84; Long Jump: 1. Olga Rypakova (KAZ) 6.21, 2. Marestella Torres (PHI) 6.15, 3. Thitima Muangjan (THA) 5.85; Shot Put: 1. Zhang Guirong (SIN) 17.31, 2. Jiang Ping (CHN) 16.86, 3. Iolanta Ulyeva (KAZ) 16.70; Discus: 1. Song Aimin (CHN) 56.99, 2. Krishna Poonia (IND) 54.32, 3. Siwaporn Warapeang (THA) 42.18.

BANGALORE Men

100m: 1. Wen Yongyi (CHN) 10.42, 2. Anil Kumar (IND) 10.45, 3. Wachara Sondee (THA) 10.53; 400m: 1. Rohan Pradeep Kumara Fernando (SRI) 45.68s, 2. Prasanna Sampath Amarasekara (SRI) 46.10, 3. Li Guangjin (CHN) 46.87; 800m: 1. Ehsan Mohajershojaei (IRI) 1:47.55, 2. Francis Sagiaraj (IND) 1:49.79, 3. Dmitry Tarassenko (KAZ) 1:50.57; 3000m: 1. Chen Mingfu (CHN) 8:19.27, 2. Sunil Kumar (IND) 8:19.57, 3. Pritam Bind (IND) 8:22.95; 400m hurdles: 1. Meng Yan (CHN) 49.03, 2. Yevgeniy Melshenko (KAZ) 49.47, 3. P. Shankar (IND) 50.39 (NR).

High Jump: 1. Hari Sankar Roy (IND) 2.21, 2. Xu Xin (CHN) 2.18, 3. Jean Claude Rabath (LIB) 2.18; Long Jump: 1. Mahan Singh (IND) 7.69, 2. Li Xin (CHN) 7.60, 3. Mehdi Amini (IRI) 7.52; Shot Put: 1. Navpreet Singh (IND) 19.84, 2. Zhang Qi (CHN) 18.86, 3. Ahmad Gholoum (KUW) 18.49; Javelin: 1. Rinat Tarzumanov (UZB) 74.40, 2. Anil Singh (IND) 74.03, 3. Liu Yanhong (CHN) 72.48.

Women

200m: 1. Guzel Khubbieva (UZB) 23.35, 2. Juthamas Tawoncharoen (THA) 24.06, 3. Vu Thi Huong (VIE) 24.36; 400m: 1. Pinki Paramanik (IND) 52.46, 2. Olga Tereshkova (KAZ) 53.25, 3. Manjeet Kaur (IND) 53.52; 800m: 1. Pinki Parmanik (IND) 2:04.42, 2. S. Shanthi (IND) 2:04.95, 3. Zamira Amirova (UZB) 2:05.85; 100m hurdles: 1. Feng Yun (CHN) 13.13, 2. Natalya Ioninskaya (KAZ) 13.48, 3. Dedeh Erawati (INA) 13.79.

High jump: 1. Marina Aitova (Kaz) 1.94, 2. Tatiana Efimenko (KGZ) 1.92, 3. Gu Biwei (CHN) 1.89; Long jump: 1. Olga Rypakova (KAZ) 6.39, 2. Anju B. George (IND) 6.35, 3. Marstella Torres (PHI) 6.13; Shot put: 1. Zhang Guirong (SIN) 17.34, 2. Jian Ping (CHN) 17.17, 3. Ionata Ulyeva (KAZ) 16.87; Discus: 1. Song Aimin (CHN) 61.29, 2. Krishna Poonia (IND) 55.77, 3. Saroj Sihag (IND) 50.68.

PUNE Men

100m: 1. Wen Yongyi (CHN) 10.40, 2. Wachara Sondee (THA) 10.49, 3. Anil Kumar (IND) 10.50;

400m: 1. Rohan Pradeep Kumara Fernando (SRI) 45.70, 2. Prasanna Sampath Amarasekara (SRI) 46.52, 3. Fawzi Al-Shammari (KUW) 47.31; 800m: 1. Ehsan Mohajershojaei (IRI) 47.90, 2. Francis Sagiaraj (IND) 1:49.59, 3. Dmitry Tarassenko (KAZ) 1:50.95; 3000m: 1. Sunil Kumar (IND) 8:12.58, 2. Denis Bagrev (KGZ) 8:15.44, 3. Chen Mingfu (CHN) 8:15.54; 400m hurdles: 1. Meng Yan (CHN) 50.23, 2. Yevgeniy Melshenko (KAZ) 50.49, 3. Joseph Abraham (IND) 51.08.

High Jump: 1. Hari Sankar Roy (IND) 2.18, 2. Chockjai Jirasukrujee (THA) 2.15, 3. Jean Claude Rabath (LIB) 2.15; Long Jump: 1. Mahan Singh (IND) 7.73, 2. Shiv Shankar Yadav (IND) 7.70, 3. Henry Dagmil (PHI) 7.61; Shot put: 1. Zhang Qi (CHN) 19.45, 2. Navpreet Singh (IND) 19.29, 3. Ahmad Gholoum (KUW) 18.27; Javelin: 1. Anil Singh (IND) 74.19, 2. Om Narain (IND) 69.71, 3. Rinat Tarzumanov (UZB) 69.58.

Women

200m: 1. Guzel Khubbieva (UZB) 23.23, 2. Juthamas Tawoncharoen (THA) 24.18, 3. Zhu Juanhong (CHN) 24.31; 400m: 1. Pinki Paramanik (IND) 52.92, 2. Olga Tereshkova (KAZ) 53.39, 3. Manjeet Kaur (IND) 54.77; 800m: 1. Pinki Paramanik (IND) 2:03.23, 2. S. Shanthi (IND) 2:04.44, 3. Sinimole Paulose (IND) 2:05.28; 100m hurdles : 1. Feng Yun (CHN) 13.30, 2. Natalya Ivoninskaya (KAZ) 13.54, 3. Dedeh Erawati (INA) 13.86;

High jump: 1. Tatiana Efimenko (KGZ) 1.94, 2. Marina Aitova (KAZ) 1.92, 3. Anna Ustinova (KAZ) 1.86; Long Jump: 1. Olga Rypakova 6.61, 2. Anju Bobby George (IND) 6.46 , 3. Marestella Torres (PHI) 6.21; Shot put: 1. Zhang Guirong (CHN) 17.03, 2. Iolanta Ulyeva (KAZ) 17.03, 3. Jing Ping (CHN) 16.59; Discus: 1. Song Aimin (CHN) 63.44, 2. Krishna Poonia (IND) 51.55, 3. Saroj Sihag (IND) 50.89.