Two memorable performances

Renjith Maheswary registered 17.04 metres in triple jump in Guwahati to better Mohinder Singh Gill's 36-year-old record [16.79m] set in Fresno, California, US.-Pics: Vivek Bendre Renjith Maheswary registered 17.04 metres in triple jump in Guwahati to better Mohinder Singh Gill's 36-year-old record [16.79m] set in Fresno, California, US.

Renjith Maheswary and Joseph Abraham hogged the limelight in the Asian Grand Prix circuit. A report from K. P. Mohan.

Outside the athletics circles, not many would have heard about Renjith Maheswary and Joseph Abraham till the other day. Once they broke through barriers that looked beyond the reach of Indians till then during the Guwahati leg of the Asian Grand Prix circuit they actually did not become household names, but people had taken note. And they should remain in focus for some more time to come.

That it took nearly 40 years for an Indian to break through the 17-metre barrier in triple jump and the 50-second barrier in the 400 metres hurdles after the world had seen such feats puts Indian athletics in the right perspective.

This should not take any credit away from Renjith and Abraham. Both are talented athletes who have made the best use of the meagre facilities and opportunities available to come up to this level. Both hail from Kottayam. Renjith is a product of the Sports Authority of India’s ’Centre of Excellence’ scheme in Kollam, while Abraham’s early career was shaped by the famous K. P. Thomas, master in Koruthodu CKMH School.

Renjith registered 17.04 metres in Guwahati to better Mohinder Singh Gill’s 36-year-old record (16.79m) set in Fresno, California, US.

“I have been trying to better that mark for four years. I am very happy that I have done it finally,” said Renjith in Guwahati.

Abraham clocked 49.52 seconds while coming second behind Chinese Meng Yan. “I was aiming to go under 49 seconds,” said the 25-year-old CRPF sub-inspector. He bettered his own National record (50.04s) set in the Federation Cup in Kolkata in May. By coming under 50 seconds for a second time in the Pune leg, where he won the title as Meng Yan dropped out at the first hurdle, Abraham confirmed his rising stature.

Where does Renjith stand in the world and Asian contexts?

Joseph Abraham clocked 49.52 seconds in the 400m hurdles, bettering his own National record (50.04s) set in the Federation Cup in Kolkata in May.-

Joseph Abraham

At the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, the seventh place went for 17.11; the poorest qualifier into the triple jump final did 16.91. At the World championships in Helsinki in 2005, the eighth place went for 17.09; the last qualifier into the final did 16.66. From now on, it is going to be tough for the 22-year-old Kerala jumper even if he is around 17 metres. And the consistency around 17 metres that matters at the global level, is going to be much tougher, experts feel.

Renjith’s progression graph shows a phenomenal climb. Just 15.45 in 2003, as a 17-year-old, he was up to 16.06 next year, 16.42 in 2005 and 16.54 in December last year in Doha. And now 17.04. Though in triple jump, such an improvement is not unheard of, the addition of 50 centimetres to his PB in six months has made people sceptical.

Renjith gives much credit to his Kollam SAI Centre coach Udayakumar for his success. He doesn’t forget his present coach S. S. Pannu who is in charge in the camp. Surprisingly, there is no mention of Uzbek coach Evgene Shvilli who trained the jumpers between October 2004 and December 2006.

Shvilli did contribute a lot to the improvement of the horizontal jumpers, including Renjith, last year, but eventually his training and optimism did not end up in a medal for India at the Doha Asiad. His contract was not renewed. Now, the top long jumpers have either left the scene or are struggling while the triple jumpers are showing results.

At the Asian level, Renjith naturally compares better. If he can be over 17 metres or just around he should be able to stretch the best of the Chinese who have gone over 17 metres for the past two seasons and head the continental lists this season.

Abraham has made steady progress through the past four years, sub-52 in 2003, 51.98 in 2004, 50.87 in 2005, 50.22 in 2006 and now a sub-50. Coach Rajinder Singh has brought about the transformation in the hurdler, switching his stride pattern to 14 up to the seventh hurdle with 15 strides after that and improving his overall technique and speed. He has a best of 46.70 for the 400m flat. In a scene dominated by the foreign coaches, with very little encouragement for the 400m hurdles till recently, the persevering efforts of the coach and his ward have borne fruit.

Abraham has a much tougher task than Renjith if he is to get among the medals at the Asian level. For, apart from Meng Yan and Yevgeniy Meleshenko of Kazakhstan, his main rivals in the Asian GP series, he will have to contend with the top Japanese including two-time World championships bronze winner Dai Tamesue and Saudi Arabian Hadi Sou’aan Al-Somaily, silver winner at the Sydney Olympics who holds the Asian record at 47.53s.

Apart from Renjith and Abraham, the other Indian athletes who gathered handsome prize money during the circuit were woman metric miler Sinimole Paulose who, like Renjith, swept the three legs, distance runner Surendra Singh, who won two of the three 3000m titles, woman quarter-miler Chitra Soman who beat Asian Games champion Olga Tereshkova of Kazakhstan in Guwahati and Pune while giving the Bangkok leg a skip, and shot putter Saurabh Vij who won at Pune with a personal best 18.51 after silver and bronze earlier on the tour.

With a 64.96 behind him this season, US-based Vikas Gowda could have been expected to consistently cross at least 61 metres in the circuit, but after he managed an encouraging 60.14 in the opening leg he faded away to 58.86 and 59.96. Iranian Abbas Samimi, silver winner in the Busan Asian Games, claimed a hat-trick.

Chatholi Hamza, though he did not win a gold in the 1500 metres, impressed with three silver medals behind Iranian Sadjad Moradi, with a best of 3:40.19. He had to aim for 3:39.00 to make it to the World championships in Osaka and he kept trying. Sinimole also required to clock a career-best 4:10.00 to book her ticket to Osaka, but her performance kept dipping as the circuit progressed. Her best of 4:12.61 came at Bangkok.

Neither in the timings that Chitra Soman clocked (53.01 and 53.19) nor in the efforts of the women’s 4x400m relay team could one find a ray of hope from a long-term perspective. With talk of an Olympic medal through the relay team very much in the air nowadays, the timings of 3:36.33 and 3:33.79 that India returned while coming behind China at Guwahati and Pune exposed the country’s limitations.

The Asian Grand Prix series is not truly representative of the continent’s athletics talent. The Japanese, as usual, stayed away despite initially entering two athletes including Tamesue. Athletes from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain were also missing.

Of the seven Asian Games champions in the fray, Chinese woman triple jumper Xie Limei posted an Asian record of 14.73 metres in Bangkok. She completed a sweep but could not reproduce her first-leg sparkle later.

The shock defeats of Asian Games champion Li Yanxi in triple jump must have upset China, but there were others like 400m runner Wang Liangyu, an exciting prospect who clocked a 45.95 in Bangkok, and woman shot putter Li Ling to make up for the Asian giant. Thai Phamang Buoban, with three victories over Chinese Xue Juan, showed that her Asian Games victory in Doha was no flash in the pan.

One of the athletes who clearly relished the competition was Sri Lankan Susanthika Jayasinghe. Beaten at Bangkok and Guwahati, the Sri Lankan sprinter scored in Pune over Asian Games champion Guzel Khubbieva in the short dash. Khubbieva tugged her thigh as she finished, probably suffering a muscle pull. Jayasinghe clocked 11.25 to the Uzbek’s 11.24 in Guwahati and felt happy that she had timed her best in two years. Kazakh Sergey Zasimovich cleared an Asian season-leading 2.30 metres in high jump in the Bangkok leg, but could not reproduce that form in the last two meets. India’s Hari Sankar Roy was well below par with efforts of 2.14, 2.14 and 2.15. The Bengal boy’s national record stands at 2.25m.

Women’s long jump was not part of the circuit this year, but after the media projected the plight of the country’s star athlete, Anju George, who had wanted to open her season at the Guwahati meet, the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) managed to get that event included as a ‘home event’ without prize money.

Anju’s plans did not take off smoothly. A 6.28 in Guwahati followed by a 6.21 at Pune left one wondering whether she would be able to even qualify for the World championships in Osaka in August (criterion 6.60m), but with a 6.42 in the Combined Events and Jumps National at Pune, a day after the Asian GP meet, Anju showed that she was not going to give up easily.

“I will be in the top six at Osaka,” said Anju confidently as the large number of mediapersons at Pune pressed her for a forecast. Of course she has to qualify first.