Luka breaks through

Tintu Luka, the promising athlete from P.T. Usha’s stable, is on way to the 800m gold.-PICS: A. M. FARUQUI

Viewed from the perspective of the Asian athletics championships in Guangzhou, China, in November, some of the performances must have given encouraging inputs to the coaches and selectors, but they failed to hold out much hope for next year when the Commonwealth Games will be held at home, writes K. P. Mohan.

A handful of performances stood out in the 49th Open National athletics championships in Bhopal. The foremost among them was that by Tintu Luka, India’s emerging athletics star, in the 800 metres. After a gap, triple jumper Renjith Maheswary also struck top form and expressed the confidence that he was ready to touch 17 metres all over again.

Viewed from the perspective of the Asian athletics championships in Guangzhou, China, in November, some of the performances must have given encouraging inputs to the coaches and selectors, but they failed to hold out much hope for next year when the Commonwealth Games will be held at home.

Luka’s first victory at the senior National level was memorable. She had to put everything into the final 150 metres when the more established Sushma Devi threatened to run away from her. Sinimole Paulose, surprisingly, was unable to keep pace with the duo in front of her.

Luka’s 2:03.53 was the seventh best in Asia for the season. Bahrain’s 1500m world champion, Maryam Yousuf Jamal, tops with 1:59.98. There are three Japanese who have clocked better than Luka. Kazakh Margarita Matsko and reigning Asian champion Truong Thanh Hang of Vietnam are also above the Kerala girl.

If the field contains all the above-mentioned runners, Luka will have to produce something more spectacular than what she did in Bhopal in order to win a medal in Guangzhou,

P. T. Usha’s trainee was well prepared for the National. “Normally she finds it difficult to respond during the last 100 metres. Here she was very strong,” said a proud Usha. As a coach, Usha was also recording a ‘first’ at the senior level.

Luka had lost to Paulose in the Jamshedpur National in 2007 after leading up to the home straight. Again, she had lost to Paulose and Sushma last year in Kochi after she came first into the straight. Paulose was beaten to the fourth place this time by S. R. Bindu.

Usha wants her ward to concentrate on the 800 metres rather than go for the more glamorous one-lap event or to double up. Though Luka was the favourite in the 400 metres, too, in Bhopal, Manjeet Kaur easily beat her.

“The effect of the 800 metres yesterday was evident,” said Chief National Coach Bahadur Singh. “Her legs were not moving,” commented Usha.

Manjeet’s Indian season-leading time of 53.62s for the 400 metres came as a surprise. This was only her second competitive race this season, but the National record holder showed no signs of strain on the home straight. She said she was yet to recover from a back problem.

Manjeet had undergone a training stint in the US but on return home she was afflicted with chicken pox. Upon recovery she competed in the National sprints meet in Patiala to come second behind Mandeep Kaur. The latter dropped out of the field in the Nationals for reasons unknown. The rest looked rather ordinary.

Renjith Maheswary ... excelling in triple jump.-

The coaches are banking on at least three runners clocking below 53 seconds by the time the Asian championships come around for India to retain its supremacy in the longer relay.

Renjith Maheswary’s transformation from a 17-plus triple jumper to a struggling 15.50-plus jumper and back again to a 16.60-plus jumper has been phenomenal. He had a start in England earlier in the season, but considered this meet as his first for the season.

“I was aiming for at least 16.80 metres here,” said Renjith. He did 16.68m eventually and had one more jump over 16.60 metres. Renjith expressed his confidence that he would be reaching 17 metres by November in time for the Asian championships.

Three Chinese, Li Yanxi (17.27), Cao Shuo (17.13) and Wu Bo (17.06) are above 17 metres this season while Korean Kim Deok-Hyung (17.10) is also in that bracket. Renjith, even if he is able to reach 17 metres, can still find the going tough in Guangzhou.

Outside of Luka and Renjith, the other notable efforts came from Joseph Abraham (400m hurdles), S. K. Mortaja (400m), Surendra Kumar Singh (5000m and 10,000m), Maha Singh (long jump), Om Prakash Singh (shot put), Om Narayan (javelin) and Seema Antil and Harwant Kaur (women’s discus).

Abraham was below his best for the season with his 50.26s for the intermediate hurdles, but he held out hope in the Asian championships context. His timing was within the top-15 in Asia this season, with 10 of them being Japanese. Abraham’s 49.59s in Chennai in May ranks fifth.

Mortaja clocked a personal best 46.59s that is also a top-15 mark in Asia in the current lists. More than the timing he had the satisfaction of beating Bibin Mathew (46.78s) for the first time. Mathew said he was yet to get back into top shape after being down with a viral fever.

Surendra Singh’s distance double in the men’s and a similar feat by Kavita Raut in the women’s section were praiseworthy. Their timings were also satisfactory considering the altitude of Bhopal. This is not to say that at the Asian level they will figure high with their timings. In fact they lie far too low in the Asian lists, though Surendra’s 13:40.45 for the 5000m in the Asian Grand Prix in Kunshan earlier this year ranks 16th. Surendra clocked 13:59.94 in Bhopal after having set out to clock in the region of 13:45.

Maha Singh’s 7.69m in long jump and Om Prakash’s 19.0m in shot put were below their best, though they were good efforts in the Asian perspective.

Someone who came up with a PB out of the blue was javelin thrower Om Narain. He had a massive jump from his 69.61m in Jamshedpur in June to 75.15m. His previous PB happened to be 74.35m achieved in 2005. He had not crossed 72 metres the past two seasons and as such he was not considered the favourite.

The favourite was Kashinath Naik of the Services, the season-leader at 77.33m. He could manage only 74.21m. National record holder Anil Kumar Singh was not allowed to enter since he had skipped the National camp and the Railways also did not have his name in the entry list even though he was present in Bhopal.

In the women’s section, the surprise leader, with 57.02m, till the final round of the discus competition was Harwant Kaur who has had a poor season so far. Seema Antil managed to overhaul that mark with a last-round throw of 57.53m. The bigger surprise was Krishna Poonia ending up with just 55.82 metres for third. Husband and coach Virendar Poonia blamed it on the extended season while Krishna felt that she was hampered by her back problem.

Four Chinese, all of them above 61 metres, top the charts for the season in Asia. Unless the Indian woman discus throwers improve dramatically in the next couple of weeks, their chances in Guangzhou look dim. A bronze will always be there for the asking, though.

M. A. Prajusha, who has had a bright start to the season, with efforts of 6.34m and 13.54m in long jump and triple jump, took the double, but with less impressive marks than early season. She had 6.28m in long jump and 13.41m in triple.

With the qualifying marks (third-place performance of the last Asian championships) being so stiff (6.60m in long jump and 13.80m in triple jump) Prajusha is hopelessly placed. Fourteen athletes have bettered Prajusha’s best in long jump this season, seven of them Chinese. Effectively she will thus be seeded eighth on current form, if she is entered, taking it for granted the top nations send two athletes each which is rarely the case.

B. G. Nagraj and Sharadha Narayana beat better-rated opponents to emerge the fastest of the championships, but with the Indian sprinting standards continuing to be so low, even from an Asian perspective, it would be futile to make comparisons. The qualifying marks in both sections being beyond the reach of the majority of the Indians the short sprints are normally not even considered for selection.

The general opinion among coaches was come November the athletes should be striking their true form. Optimism is never lacking in Indian athletics; matching results are always difficult to come across.