Stars' absence takes away the sheen

ABHIJIT SEN GUPTA

Runaway win... Gurdev Singh set a national record in 50km walk.-V. SUDERSHAN

THE 45th edition of the National Open Athletic Championships held at the GMC Balayogi Stadium in Hyderabad was initially touted as a selection meet for the Commonwealth Games. However, as it turned out later, some of the big names of Indian athletics decided to stay away due to various reasons.

One of the notable absentees was long jumper Anju Bobby George who is the country's main hope for a medal in any international meet. According to reports she was not mentally and physically prepared to give off her best in the Hyderabad championship and therefore decided not to participate.

Also missing were discus throwers Anil Kumar and Seema Antil whose names were included in the original list of participants. Heptahtlete J. J. Shobha of AP had not recovered fully from the injury she had suffered at the Athens Olympics and did not take part. Sprinter Satti Geetha, also from AP, did not participate as she was nursing an injury. Finally, P. Shankar did not run in his favourite event (400m hurdles) since he was not totally fit, according to his coach. Shankar did run in the 400m but was eliminated in the heats.

As a result of the absenteeism, some of the events lost their competitive edge. But it was announced that the AAFI would host at least two more national level meets so as to give a chance to those who failed to take part in the Hyderabad meet. Arrangements will also be made to send medal prospects for next year's Commonwealth Games and Asian Games abroad for training.

During a meeting with the media Lalit Bhanot, secretary-general of AAFI, predicted that this time Indian athletes would put up their best ever performance in the Commonwealth Games. According to him the AAFI has identified some athletes who are medal prospects for the Commonwealth Games and some top notch athletes like Athens Olympian J. J. Shobha will be given special consideration in view of their reputation and potential to win medals. However, some of the athletes who took part impressed with rousing performances. Gurdev Singh of Services shattered the national record in the men's 50km walk. He timed four hours 16 min 22.0sec to obliterate the record of 4hrs 19min 48.0sec set way back in 1970 by Kishan Singh (Services). Gurdev hails from Ambala in Haryana and also holds the national record in the 20kms walk. He was persuaded to compete in the longer distance by coach Nikolai Snesarev of Belarus who felt Gurdev had a better chance of winning international medals in the longer event.

Naunidh Singh of Punjab set a national record in the men's 110m hurdles when he clocked 14.05sec on the concluding day. Returning after a two-year gap Naunidh broke the mark of 14.07sec held by Gurpreet Singh in 2001. On the first day of the event, 21-year-old Chetna Solanki of Railways broke the meet record in the women's pole vault by scaling a height of 3.70m. The existing record was in the name of V.S. Surekha at 3.55 metres, set in 2004. In fact all the three medallists in this event broke the old record. The second placed Gitanjali Bora of Railways scaled 3.65m and the earlier record holder V.S. Surekha herself placed third with a height of 3.60m. Later Solanki tried to break the national record of 3.80 metres but failed in the attempt. "I was confident of winning the gold here," said Chetna after the event. "My target is to reach four metres and get a medal in the Asian Games," she said. "My run up and approach is good but I need to improve on my technique in clearing the bar. If I can do that, I will be able to cross four metres," she said.

The men's pole vault also saw a new meet record being created by V.V. Geesh Kumar who vaulted to 5.05 metres and became the fourth Indian to clear five metres in the event. National record holder P. Anil Kumar clinched the gold in the men's 100 metres managing to stave off a strong challenge from Jagdish Basak over the last ten metres. Anil Kumar later said that due to a stiff calf muscle, his timing was not very good. He, however, added that he was just looking for a gold medal here and was not too concerned about the timing.

Poonam Tomar, who won the women's 100 metres, also felt that her timing could have been better had there been a higher level of competition. The 34-year-old Poonam, who idolises the famous Olympian Merlene Ottey, said that she hopes to bring down her timing to 11.40seconds before the Asian Games next year.

Tessymol Joseph of Indian Railways achieved an unusual double when she won gold medals in the triple jump and high jump events. Tessymol, who is basically a triple jumper, also took up high jump after being inspired by international high jumper Bobby Aloysius. Tessymol, who hails from Palakkad, said that she did not expect to win the gold here. But triple jump remains her first love and her dream is to win an international medal. In the decathlon, Kulwinder Singh of Services chalked up 7257 points to break his own record of 7149 set in 2002. Another good performance came from young Anil Kumar in the men's javelin. The 20-year-old Western Railway employee threw the spear to a distance of 76.31 metres — a noteworthy feat by Indian standards. Among the new meet records were those set by Amandeep Kaur in the women's 20km walk, Gamanda Ram of Services in the mens 800m, Gurmeet Kaur of LIC in the women's javelin, and Ranjith Maheshwary in the men's triple jump. Ranjith, who hails from Kerala, started as a long jumper and high jumper when he was in school and took up triple jump only in 2003 before achieving instant results. His aim is to cross 17 metres in the near future.

Naunidh Singh won the 110m hurdles with a national record to boot.-K.RAMESH BABU

In the women's 10,000 metres, held under the scorching sun, national and meet record holder L. Aruna Devi showed why she is a champion. She got the better of another good runner Madhuri Gurnule despite not having had enough rest. "Ten days ago I had won the event in the Railway meet and I did not have adequate recovery time. But I was determined to win the gold here," said Aruna Devi later. In the men's 3000m steeplechase, Arun D'Souza gave yet another fine performance to lift the gold in an event which he has dominated for eight years. He had virtually no competition as he took the lead from the first lap and retained it all the way to the tape.

"I believe in hard work. Since I started my career at home in Chikmagalur, I began running in the hilly terrain. This gave me more stamina than most of my rivals," explained Arun about his consistency and good form. Gamanda Ram of Services and Pinki Paramanik of Railways (who finished with three golds in the women's events) were adjudged the `Best Athletes' among the men and women respectively.

Railways won the men's, women's and the overall team titles by comfortable margins. This meet was organised by the AP Amateur Athletic Association with support coming from AP Tourism.