On Friday evening at NIS, Patiala, workers are seemingly in a race against the setting sun to get the temporary seating in order ahead of the four day Federation Cup athletics beginning on Saturday. In contrast to their frenzied activity, the athletes, who have arrived from all across the country, are seemingly more relaxed. A day ahead of the competition, training consists mostly of stretching followed by relatively light workouts. The throwers merely check their form. Sprinters only do split-time runs.
There is a reason for this relative ‘relaxation’. Over the past few weeks the athletes have progressively loaded their body as they build the momentum in training. Subsequently, the body needs to de-stressed so that it is fresh during competition. And, so, while the Federation Cup is part of the competition cycle, it too must be seen in the context of the ‘relaxation’ phase, as athletes, who have returned from Glasgow, look to peak for Incheon.
Because there have been few competitions this year. The Asian GP series had been cancelled by the Asian Athletics Association and the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) had not held the Indian GP series this year. Hence, the Federation Cup ostensibly serves as a sort of selection trial for the Asian Games next month.
However, it seems that for many events, the minimum qualification standards set by the AFI for the Asian Games are likely be missed in Patiala. Many athletes expected to go to the Asian Games have already cleared the minimum standards earlier this year.
A case in point are the 20km racewalkers. KT Irfan and Gurmeet Singh, who recorded a creditable time of 1:21:09 and 1:21:20 seconds, respectively, at the Racewalking World Cup in May, are not looking to push themselves hard and could be aiming for something in the 1:23:00 and 1:24:00 range this time around.
“This competition is not about going out to break records. With the Asian Games coming up, we don’t want to push the athletes. Our racewalkers have already gone below the qualifying standards for the Asian Games earlier this year. For them this competition is about getting tournament practice. And that is equally valuable,” said Gurdev Singh, who coaches Irfan.
Though the AFI has set qualifying guidelines, they are not cast in stone, and selectors are going to take the final call.
Tintu Luka, who was expected to be one of the stars of the Federation Cup, was not seen at the stadium and is believed to be giving the event a miss as she has an opportunity to compete at the IAAF Continental Cup early next month.
Meanwhile, the conditions in Patiala doesn’t seem that it will be conducive to quick timings.
“The track is a little old and is a bit soft. So, it will be hard to set a very quick time over here,” says Krishna Kant Rane, who won gold in the 100m at the Lucknow Interstate Athletics championships in May this year, with a time (10:32 seconds) that matches the minimum standard set for the Asian Games by the AFI.
What this means is that for athletes like Preeja Sreedharan, who won a gold in the 10,000m at the Guangzhou Asian Games four years back with a timing of 31:50:28s, may not be able to match the minimum standard time set for this year’s Asian Games. The mark has been set at 32:39:13s and Sreedharan last went under it two years back.
However, for some athletes, the Federation Cup offers more than just competition. For the likes of 400m hurdler Joseph Abraham, the tournament could be a way of reasserting his claim to be the best in the sport in the country.
Abraham, who won gold at the last Asian Games, had temporarily left the sport after failing to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. When he returned to the sport this year, he finished third at the Interstate Athletics championships. The minimum qualifying mark for 400m hurdles is a generous 51.40 seconds, a time Abraham should clear easily, but the 32-year-old has more than a point to prove.
“He was going well until a couple of months ago, when he suffered a slight injury in his gluteus muscle. But he seems to have recovered well from that. When I measured him over seven hurdles (there are a total of 10) on Thursday, he had clocked around 36.3 seconds. That is very quick and means he could hit a sub-50 second time in the Federation Cup,” says coach Ajimon KS.”