Spirited comeback of many track stars at Calicut meet puts India in quest for gold in Asian athletics

first_imgPremachandran: Stealing the showA spate of record-breaking performances at the Calicut meet last month was indeed a good augury for Indian athletics in the year of the Asiad. What made the meet even more memorable was the remarkable comebacks of many athletes who had for all practical purposes been written,Premachandran: Stealing the showA spate of record-breaking performances at the Calicut meet last month was indeed a good augury for Indian athletics in the year of the Asiad. What made the meet even more memorable was the remarkable comebacks of many athletes who had for all practical purposes been written off.The biggest surprise of them all was the performance of 22-year-old Mercy Kuttan, written off by sceptics as one paling into oblivion. She had slipped to second place in the long jump at the last national open athletics meet at Lucknow in October following her marriage to sprinter and international relay runner M.G. Muralikuttan.On the opening day of the Calicut meet, Kuttan, donning the colours of Bihar, where she now works with the Food Corporation of India, leapt 6.15 metres – the farthest by an Indian woman, outdistancing the gold medal winning performance of Angel Mary Joseph at the last Asian Games at Bangkok.It is also considerably farther than the 5.97 metres recorded by the gold medal winning Japanese woman at the Tokyo Asian Track and Field meet in June last year, making Mercy Kuttan the best bet for India at the Delhi Asian Games.Khambatta: Reigning championLong jump is the only field event, both among men and women, in which India has done well on the Asian scene, otherwise dominated by China and Japan. India’s flag is kept flying high more often in the track events, although the Thais won the sprint gold medals and Japan took most of the other track medals at the Tokyo meet.But the spirited comeback of many track stars at the Calicut meet puts India in the quest for gold in Asian athletics. With a remarkable return to top form, Adille Sumariwala, 25, of Maharashtra won the 100 metres dash clocking 10.4 seconds to equal the meet record and be the fastest man in the country today.advertisementAnother 25-year-old and Kerala’s hope, K.K. Premachandran, who stole the show with the sprint treble at Lucknow had to be content with victories in the 200 metres and 400 metres races. Sumariwala is all concentration in the 100 metres dash while the smooth striding Premachandran, who has a shaky start, runs fluently in the longer sprints.Wonder Girl: Kerala’s wonder girl P.T. Usha, 18, asserted her superiority in the 100 and 200 metres for women, dispelling doubts about her health and breathing problems that some felt may end her career prematurely. Following up her Lucknow win in the sprints, Usha once again left team-mate 22-year-old Sreekumari Amma, and Karnataka’s 19-year-old Vandana Rao to fight for the second place.Valsamma: Hurdling to fameVandana Rao finished second in the 100 metres and Sreekumari Amma in the 200 metres. A record-breaking 2,500 fans had gathered at the Calicut meet – to watch wonder girl Usha. To their disappointment, she was unable to beat the record timing she had entered in the books last year.”She could have made it if the track was firm and we would have been doubly happy for her parents came to see Usha in action from their village home just 30 kilometres away,” said O.M. Nambiar whom the Kerala Government has assigned as her exclusive coach till the Asian games.In another surprise comeback. Kerala’s Padmini Thomas, 24, avenged her defeat by the 23-year-old Hamida Banu of Rajasthan at the Lucknow meet with a fresh entry in the record book in the 400 metres for women. Another Kerala athlete M.D. Valsamma, 21, won the 400 metre hurdles equalling her own national record timing, clocked when she first came to limelight at the Bangalore interstate meet last year.After keeping out of competitions for almost a year, 29-year-old Hari Chand of Punjab returned to edge out Shivnath Singh of Bihar and win the 10,000 metres race. Shivnath Singh, now past 36, seems over the hill. Keeping away from the competitions’ circuit is also vital for athletic form.Raj Kumar: Ahead of the fieldPerhaps this is why Tokyo medallists Geeta Zutshi (800 and 1,500 metres), Gopal Saini (5,000 metres), Chand Ram and Ranjit Singh (gold and silver winners in the 20 kilometres walk) did not take part in the Calicut contest.For those competing in the field events, athletic ascendancy is a grim struggle as they have to work their way up centimetre by centimetre. Indians have won few laurels in Asian contests in the jumps and throws and for most of the time the challenge is to remain on top, hovering around the same mark at successive nationals.A story of remarkable consistency and improved performances is Maharashtra’s Bakhtawar Khambatta, 24, the national-shot-put champion for five years. A medal in an all-Asia contest is elusive. Even for those who win a medal the toil is frustrating as it was for 36-year-old Bahadur Singh Chauhan of Bihar.advertisementAlthough he won the shot-put medal for the twelfth time in 15 inter-state meets at Calicut, the champion has been tossing the iron ball for shorter distances in recent meets. There is also a remarkable dearth of talent in some field events.But those, like 21-year-old Sunder Singh Tanwar of Bihar, who bettered his pole-vault national record for the second time in six months, can improve faster with proper training and techniques. Seventeen-year-old Surjit Kaur of Punjab who set a new record in the 3,000 metres for women and also won the individual championship for women is another bright prospect.Much depends on the kind of training and coaching available to the athletes. The Amateur Athletic Federation of India (AAFI) has announced the names of 119 athletes, for the first coaching camp opening at Patiala on February 22.”The number will go up to about 140 and then be shortlisted to 90 to form the Asian Games contingent,” says G.S. Sivia, secretary of the AAFI. He adds: “The contingent will be large, as there are two Indian entries in each event and a few more to make the relay teams. Now we are sure of 10 gold medals and with five coaching camps before the national open meet in September, we can produce more medal winners.”last_img