Sahana Kumari’s passage to London

On the money… Sahana Kumari attained the Olympic ‘B’ qualifying mark of 1.92m and in the process she also beat the National record of 1.91m set by Bobby Aloysius.-K. MURALI KUMAR

In the absence of some of the top-class athletes, the performances at the meet were mediocre. Over to Abhijit Sen Gupta.

Sahana Kumari’s performance was the only silver lining of the Greenko 52nd National Inter-State athletics meet at the G. M. C. Balayogi Stadium in Gachibowli, Hyderabad, recently. Otherwise the meet, by and large, was mediocre since most of the top level athletes were missing from the fray.

On the opening day, Sahana Kumari of Karnataka equalled the Olympic ‘B’ qualifying mark of 1.92 metres in the women’s high jump final. She, in fact, was the only athlete to achieve the qualifying mark at the meet.

The high jump event started after a two-hour delay and ended at 10 p.m. which highlighted the poor organisation of the meet on the first day. The entire stadium was empty even as Sahana reached her target of 1.92m. In the process, she also beat the National record of 1.91m set by Bobby Aloysius.

Sahana, 31, gave full credit to her coach N. Evgeny of Ukraine and said she had been confident of achieving the mark. Sahana also said that she was frustrated over the long delay in starting the event.

The fact that the event ended quite late at night — by which time everybody had left, some of the lights had been switched off and there was no one to watch or cheer her — made no difference. The brave lass just focused on her target and achieved it despite the empty stands.

“Sahana is breaking records but India is sleeping,” said Evgeny, gazing at the desolate stands. These words rightly expressed the coach’s feelings.

Dharambir Singh of Haryana and Satti Geeta of Andhra Pradesh emerged the fastest man and woman respectively, but Dharambir was later stripped of his medal since he failed to turn up for the dope test (see box). As a result the gold medal was later awarded to Mohd. Abdul Najeeb Quereshi of Andhra Pradesh who had finished second with a time of 10.59s. Similarly, the two runners who finished behind Quereshi moved up by one place and the silver went to Krishan Kumar Rane of Maharashtra and the bronze to Sameer Mon of Kerala.

Olympian Satti Geeta kept the home crowd in good cheer by winning the women’s 100 metres. She was out of the blocks in a flash and charged into an early lead which she maintained all the way to the finish. But her timing was a modest 12.0s. The meet record as well as the National record is held by Rachita Mistry at 11.48s and 11.38s respectively.

On the second day all eyes were on Tintu Luka and she did not disappoint her admirers as she won the women’s 800 metres by a handsome margin. However, her timing of two minutes 1.36s was well below her National record of 1:59.17s set in Brussels in 2010.

Tintu, a protégé of P. T. Usha, has emerged as one of the country’s best prospects in the two-lap race. She showed a good combination of pace and stamina to make sure of the gold medal, beating her nearest rival Sinimole Paulose by several yards.

P. T. Usha later said that the level of competition was not good enough to get the best out of Tintu, or else she would have returned a better time.

The women’s long jump was won by M. A. Prajusha of Kerala who chalked up her best of 6.24 metres on her third attempt. But it was well below the meet record set by Mayookha Johny (6.63m).

In the women’s long jump the National record holder, Anju George, was missing from the fray since she was recovering from a respiratory infection. Anju will now target two competitions in Europe — the Sollentuna Grand Prix in Stockholm, Sweden, on July 5 and the Portuguese National Championships in Lisbon on July 7 and 8 — to gain Olympic qualification. In long jump, the ‘B’ standard is 6.65m while the ‘A’ standard is 6.75m.

In the men’s 400m hurdles, defending champion Satinder Singh of Punjab once again proved to be the nemesis of hot favourite Joseph G. Abraham of Kerala.

Joseph was widely expected to win having set the meet record of 49.91s in 2009 and the National record of 49.51 in Osaka in 2007. It was expected that he would make a serious bid to achieve the Olympic qualifying mark in this meet. The Olympic ‘B’ mark is 49.80s while the ‘A’ mark is 49.50s. But Joseph was off colour and lost narrowly to Satinder.

The 25-year-old Punjab hurdler had defeated Joseph in the Inter-State meet in Bangalore last year also.

Joseph disclosed later that he had erred in trying to attain the qualifying mark in the heats itself, which had tired him out and prevented him from giving his best in the final.

On the concluding day, Satti Geeta’s bid for a sprint double did not materialise. Her valiant attempt to overtake Manisha of Haryana failed and she lost by a narrow margin. But Geeta still ended up with two gold medals — one from the 100m and the other from the shorter relay.

Manisha, who was disqualified in the 100m due to a false start, was thrilled with her victory in the 200m. “I knew that I could win the gold, and I put in my best effort. I am happy that all my hard work finally paid off and I won’t have to return empty handed,” she said.

Prajusha also picked up her second gold when she won the women’s triple jump with a good effort that was just two centimetres short of the meet record. On her fourth jump, Prajusha cleared 13.66 metres which gave her the gold. The meet record in this event stands in the name of Mayookha Johny at 13.68m, set in 2010.

* * * A BIG LET-DOWN

Running blues… Dharambir Singh (202) wins the men’s 100 metres at the National Inter-State athletics meet in Hyderabad. The Haryana sprinter was stripped of his gold medal for reporting almost 24 hours late for the dope test.-MOHAMMED YOUSUF

Call it arrogance, or whatever. The end result was that Dharambir Singh of Haryana, who surprised many with his wonderful performance in the men’s 100 metres at the 52nd National Inter-State athletics meet, had to suffer the agony of being stripped of his gold medal after failing to report for the mandatory dope test.

The attitude of the 21-year-old sprinter was puzzling, for he cannot claim to be ignorant of the basic rules, especially since he had represented India at the 2010 Gunagzhou Asian Games and was an experienced athlete too.

Strangely, the official reason given by the Haryana team management was that Dharambir was in the vicinity of the pole vault competition venue when the announcements to report for the dope test were made (apparently an excuse that the athlete missed the announcements).

However, what was indisputable was the manner in which Dharambir actually gave a miss to the dope test. He told his team coach that he was going for a cool-down after the event, but never really returned. Only the following day evening did he report for the dope test.

Even more perplexing was the fact that the AFI (Athletics Federation of India) dope control team accepted the test after almost 24 hours after Dharambir had won the race. And during this time, there was scope for anything to happen.

“We cannot comment on why we accepted the dope test from Dharambir. We just followed instructions,” was the vague reply from one of the senior officials of the medical team who did not want to be named. For the record, the AFI secretary, C. K. Valson, disclosed the same evening (June 24) after Dharambir had undergone a delayed dope test that the sprinter was suspended pending enquiry and that his name was removed from the list of medallists.

“Andhra Pradesh’s Md. Abdul Najeeb Qureshi, who was originally second in the race, is now the winner of the event,” he added.

Valson insisted that Dharambir cannot plead ignorance or claim that he was not reminded of the dope test. “We made repeated announcements on the public address system in this regard and there was no response from him,” he pointed out.

The decision to suspend Dharambir was taken after a crucial meeting that was also attended by the AFI president Adille J. Sumariwalla. It was a sad end to what looked like a very special performance from Dharambir, especially considering the fact that his timing of 10.51s equalled India’s best in nearly two years (Krishna Kumar Rane had clocked 10.51s while winning the 100m in the Fed Cup in April this year).

V. V. Subrahmanyam