Punjab Police comes out on top

ABHIJIT SEN GUPTA

The Punjab Police men & the Railways women (below) triumphed in the team championships.-K. RAMESH BABU

PUNJAB POLICE put up a sterling display to emerge as the top team in the men's section of the 56th senior, 31st junior and 19th sub-junior National track cycling championships at the new velodrome in the Osmania University campus in Hyderabad. Railways emerged as the top team in the women's section.

The sports administrators in the Punjab Police seem to have done a good job of grooming their cyclists into one of the finest units in the country. They have picked the best of cyclists from Punjab - a State known for having produced some of the top cyclists in the country - and then given them the advantage of good coaching, good facilities and a secure income.

K. RAMESH BABU

The cyclists in turn put in their best. Individually or as a team, their performances were very impressive. On the second day, Kulbir Singh broke the National record in the men's 1000-metre time trial. The tall and athletic 24-year-old Kulbir had put in several weeks of hard practice and seemed confident of getting a medal here. Not only did he achieve it, but even went one step ahead by clocking 1m 10.45 secs to break his own record of 1m 10.64 secs created in 1999.

The others who did well were the Railways cyclists who finished runner-up to Punjab Police in the men's section and won the crown in the women's section. Railways also had picked up the best of talent and trained them well, especially in the women's category, where several of the cyclists had been recruited from Manipur. The notable performers for Railways were H. Ranjita Devi, O. Beena Kumari Devi, Bemcha Devi and Premlata Surevan.

Kulbir Singh bettered the National record in the men's 1000m time trial.-K. RAMESH BABU

For the host State, Andhra Pradesh, the meet was noteworthy in more ways than one. Not only was the newly constructed velodrome put to the test ahead of the National Games, but some of the cyclists also did well to obtain medals against tough competition. First and foremost of these was the 17-year-old Ch. Sai Krishna who picked up two golds. His first gold came in the 15-kilometre points race for boys under-18 and the way he paced and positioned himself during the sprint rounds showed that here is an youngster with tremendous ability and who is a bright prospect for the future. Sai got his second gold on the final day in the three-kilometre individual pursuit for boys under-18.

Another AP cyclist who did well was V. Ishwarya, who picked up a gold in the two-kilometre individual pursuit for girls under-16. She had won a bronze in the road Nationals at Belgaum earlier and this was her first National gold.

The AP duo, Ch. Sai Krishna (two golds) and V. Ishwarya (one gold), performed creditably.-K. RAMESH BABU

The spectators who comprised mostly children from the vicinity of the stadium had a great time watching some of the hard-fought races. The mass start and points races were especially attractive since direct competition could be witnessed as against the time trials wherein individuals or teams did their laps alone.

The boys' under-18 points race over a distance of 15 kilometres was a very good contest. The 42-lap race tested the cyclists' tactics and planning ability as well as their speed and endurance. Out of 17 starters, only seven could finish the tough race which was won by Sai Krishna.

Sandeep Malik won the gruelling 30-kilometre points race for men.-

The five-kilometre points race for girls under-18 was also a very difficult one. There were two mishaps. The first one which occurred after only two laps forced two of the cyclists to pull out. Punjab's Gurpreet Kaur, riding with superb judgment, speed and power, took the maximum points on all three sprint rounds and even survived a major mishap which saw at least five riders in the leading bunch crash in a heap with just four laps to go.

On the last day, it was the gruelling 30-kilometre points race for men which was the star-attraction. The event was won by Sandeep Malik of Services, an experienced international, who put up a good display right from the start. The 24-year-old Malik, an Air Force sergeant, fulfilled the expectations of his coaches as he charged forward to finish well ahead of the rest of the field.

Gurpreet Kaur emerged champion in the five-kilometre points race for girls under-18-K. RAMESH BABU

The good word that most officials and cyclists had for the venue was a pat on the back for the host State. Most participants when questioned stated that the track was of excellent standard and the construction was good. They felt that it was a fast track which would help the cyclists to perform well.

The Team championships:

Men: Punjab Police (31 points); 2. Railways (24); 3. Services (12).

Boys under-18: 1. Manipur (31) ; 2. Andhra Pradesh (19) ; 3. Punjab (8). Under-16: 1. Punjab (29); 2. Rajasthan (20); 3. Andamans (8). Under-14: 1. Punjab (13); 2. Karnataka (6); 3. Manipur (4).

Women: Railways (35); 2. Kerala (25); 3. Andamans (6).

Girls under-18: 1. Maharashtra (15); 2. Punjab (10); 3. Kerala (8). Under-16: 1. Manipur (11); 2. Kerala (7); 3. Andhra Pradesh (5). Under-14: 1. Maharashtra (14); 2. Kerala (8); 3. Tamil Nadu (3).