Stars fail to glitter

G. Gayathry... personal best in 100m hurdles.-PICS: R. RAGU

Though some of the athletes came up with their personal best performances, not a single National record was broken at the meet. By S. R. Suryanarayan.

When the country’s leading athletes are summoned from their daily camp routines and asked to take part in competitions with the goal of attaining the qualifying norms for the World Championship later in the year in Berlin, the expectations are high. But then, how serious were the athletes was the question as the Indian Grand Prix circus moved from Kochi to Coimbatore, and then to Chennai. True, some of the athletes improved upon their personal bests. In Chennai, for instance, Joseph Abraham (400m hurdles) attained the qualifying norm, but no new National records were set at the meet. It was pathetic to see established stars such as Chitra Soman dropping out of the 400m event even before the 100m mark and K. M. Binu not even taking the starter’s order despite entering the race (400m).

It’s not that there was any question mark on these seasoned performers. As the chief coach, Bahadur Singh, put it, “They will all gradually rise up to their best.”

The presence of top performers can really inspire the next level of athletes, as Bipin Mathew, the winner in 400m in all the three legs, showed. With each outing Bipin, aspiring to cement his place in the Indian team, posted better timings, with his best being 46.16s, which prompted him to state that he would break the 46-second barrier and even attain the qualifying norm (45.95s) by the time the Federation Cup gets underway in Chennai in June. The way in which the 22-year-old athlete from Wyanad finished the 400m race in Chennai, several strides ahead, he could have, perhaps with some challenge from fellow competitors, done a sub-46 on the newly re-laid track at the Nehru Stadium.

If Surinder Singh’s grand running for a personal best timing in the 5000m was the highlight of the Coimbatore leg, then in Chennai it was Abraham’s courageous effort in the sultry weather that stood out. Perhaps it was the weather that stopped Abraham from attempting to erase his own National mark, though his 49.59s was well within the ‘B’ standards for Berlin.

For Surinder, who had shattered Harichand’s three-decade old National record in the 10,000m last year, the newly laid synthetic track in Coimbatore inspired him to his best performance in the 5000m, where he clocked 13:49.60s, his second best on Indian soil.

Maha Singh showed promise in long jump. The Northern Railway employee is one of those few athletes who worked their heart out in order to achieve that magical mark of 8 metres. According to the record book, he had done 7.99m at the Asian Grand Prix in Singapore five years ago.

Maha Singh and Bipin Mathew (below) ... showing lot of promise.-

The way in which he tried to attain the magical mark — with intense concentration and each of his jumps steeped in expectation — Maha had the audience spell-bound. Finally, he fell just six centimetres short of eight metres. Maha, however, wasn’t disappointed. “I will keep trying for 8.05m, the qualifying mark for the Berlin event.”

While there was little to cheer about in the throw events — even someone like discus thrower Krishna Poonia (Railways), who had sought to get past 60m, finished over two metres below the mark (58.95m) she attained in Coimbatore — the track events in comparison were witness to some lively performances. Like Sharada Narain (Railways) in the 400m, P. T. Usha’s pupil Tintu Luka (Kerala) in the 400m and the local girl G. Gayathry (Indian Bank), who is currently the most promising talent from Tamil Nadu.

The long limbed Gayathry clocked 13.8s to win the gold in the 100m hurdles. It was her personal best timing.

Coach Nagarajan of the Prime Sports Academy (a unit of the St. Joseph’s College of Engineering) is training Gayathry to become a top triple jumper. She cleared 13.04m in triple jump and though it was short of her best — 13.10m — Gayathry still gave enough notice of the shape of things to come.

The spotlight in triple jump was on M. A. Prajusha of Kerala — Anju Bobby George decided to skip the Grand Prix — especially after she had hinted in Kochi that the 14m mark was what she would aim for in Chennai. Though her effort of 13.51m was slightly below her Kochi performance, Prajusha’s showing was marked by consistency.

“A twinge of pain in my right leg made me hold back,” said Prajusha who skipped a jump after she had ensured that her effort was unassailable.

Incidentally, Prajusha won the long jump gold in Coimbatore.

The three legs — Kochi, Coimbatore and Chennai — that formed the first phase of the Indian Grand Prix may not have mirrored a clear picture of India’s strengths but it certainly highlighted the weaknesses (several athletes complained of hamstring strains). Maybe it is best to toe the chief coach’s line: “expect some good times ahead”. And amidst all this, nobody knew where the Malaysians finished in the meet. There were six of them!