Sparkling performances and doping gloom at Indian Grand Prix

The next few months in Indian athletics promise to be very interesting ones... there could be many surprises too.

Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra’s 88.07m, which broke his own national record (2018 Jakarta Asian Games, gold) by a centimetre, was clearly the best performance of the three IGP legs.   -  Special Arrangement

While glancing through the World Athletics year’s lists the other day, one was reminded of Louis Armstrong’s beautiful 1960s song What A Wonderful World.

The times certainly appear wonderful with javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra and steeplechaser Avinash Sable on top of the world list after the first three Indian Grand Prix legs in Patiala. Quartermiler Amoj Jacob and woman javelin thrower Annu Rani are in the second rung and long jumper M. Sreeshankar, triple jumper Eldhose Paul and sprinter Hima Das all occupy top five spots.

If one had not been tracking the sport closely, it would seem that Indian athletics was indeed world class as the Athletics Federation of India had said soon after the 2018 Asian Games high in Jakarta where India finished with an impressive bunch of gold medals.

Some of the outstanding performances in the IGP certainly surprised those who were glued to the sport for years, especially since they came so early in the season. And with news coming in that two core Olympic probables, including a prominent female relay runner who is also a multiple Asian Games medallist, had failed dope tests taken during the first Indian Grand Prix, there is a feeling that a lot had been tried out during the long COVID-19 lockdown when there was no dope-testing.

READ| Spectators from abroad barred from Tokyo Olympics

A quartermiler testing positive is significant since India has already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in the 4x400m mixed relay and was hoping to make the cut in the men’s and women’s relays too. This could be a huge blow for the country especially since Hima Das, the under-20 400m world champion, Asian Games 400m silver medallist and national record holder, appears to be forced to focus on the 100 and 200m after the mysterious injury of 2019.

Many questions

The positive dope test should also raise questions about how big the doping problem is at national camps, who its central characters are and how the system works. Questions have already been raised over why five of the six 2018 Asian Games gold medallists were not tested out of competition prior to the event in Jakarta.

In the third leg of the Indian Grand Prix, Avinash Sable clocked a very impressive 8:24.40s in the 3000m steeple chase. It was just three seconds off his personal best.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

 

Many have also wondered why quartermilers have been taken to countries like Poland, Turkey and the Czech Republic for training and competitions where they have often run against each other. And relay runners have got into big trouble in the past too. Ten years ago, in 2011 and months after the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games and Guangzhou Asian Games, six 400m runners tested positive in the country’s biggest doping scandal. And in 2017, host India lost two Asian Championships golds — women’s 4x400m relay and 400m — after quartermiler Nirmala Sheoran, who had won the individual title in Bhubaneswar, failed dope tests later.

Even in the recent IGP, some prominent quartermilers were missing, which looked strange as athletes had been without any competition the whole of last year. They should have been very hungry to compete this year to tune themselves for bigger meets.

Neeraj’s record, the best

Coming back to the sparkling performances Neeraj Chopra’s 88.07m, which broke his own national record (2018 Jakarta Asian Games, gold) by a centimetre, was clearly the best performance of the three IGP legs.

READ| Tokyo Olympics ready to announce ban on fans from abroad

Though troubled by crosswinds, Neeraj produced a big throw when he attempted the fifth round with a different javelin, the Nordic, which, according to national coach Uwe Hohn, helps some of the world’s biggest names to bring out big throws. Neeraj had been comfortable with the Nemeth javelin and has tried the Nordic in training earlier, but rarely in competitions.

Sable’s opening stunner

The IGP-3 was the best of the three and Avinash Sable, who, like Neeraj, opened his season in this leg and clocked a very impressive 8:24.40s in the 3,000m steeplechase. It was just three seconds off his personal best. Sable, like Neeraj, has already qualified for the Olympics.

M. R. Poovamma won the women’s 400m in all the three legs of the Indian Grand Prix with a best of 53.45s in the opener.   -  K. Murali Kumar

 

Two youngsters, Delhi quartermiler Amoj Jacob and Kerala long jumper M. Sreeshankar, also came in with strong performances while Asian silver medallist Annu Rani was consistently above 60m, which could see her making the Tokyo Olympics cut on the basis of her world ranking.

Jacob’s surprise

The 22-year-old Jacob stunningly lowered his personal best in the 400m, from 46.00s in the IGP-2 to 45.70s in the IGP-3 in a space of a week, while the 21-year-old Sreeshankar had a 8.05m in the IGP-2, the fourth 8m jump of his career.

READ| Dhanalakshmi beats Hima Das, breaks PT Usha's meet record at Federation Cup

Hima Das, running alone in the third IGP, clocked a personal best of 11.67m in the women’s 100m, but the big race with World University Games champion and national record holder Dutee Chand did not materialise with the latter skipping the IGP-3.

Triple jumper Eldhose Paul opened his season with a good 16.56m and M. R. Poovamma won the women’s 400m in all the three legs with a best of 53.45s in the opener.

The next few months promise to be very interesting ones... there could be many surprises too.