OP Jaisha began her finishing kick from the second to last turn in her 5,000m race at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium at the National Open Athletics Championships on Sunday. That final sprint put the result beyond any doubt. L Surya had been close on Jaisha’s heels but ultimately trailed in nearly 40m behind the winner.
Surya isn’t the easiest of opponents, she has a strong finishing kick of her own, but if there was someone who could have posed a challenge to Jaisha — bronze medallist in the 1,500m at the Incheon Asiad — it would have come from her old rival Preeja Sreedharan. Indeed as Jaisha admitted after the race, it would certainly have boosted her timing, which was reasonably relaxed 16.13.61seconds.
“Winning the medal was a bit easier because Preeja wasn’t here but that also meant that my timing was not as good. When the two of us compete together, we keep pushing each other. I lead for a lap then she sets the pace for the next lap. On the final lap whoever has the better sprint wins the race,” Jaisha said.
Jaisha though isn’t one to rue her average timing on Sunday. While she hasn’t had much time to prepare for the Nationals since returning from Incheon last month, she is targetting the 1,500m event.
“It is good to win gold, but my goal is to do well in 1,500m. At the Asian Games I had qualified for the 2015 World Championships in the 5,000m despite finishing fourth. But even though I had won the bronze in the 1,500m, I had fallen short of the qualification standard for the World Championships,” said Jaisha.
But while Preeja had not even appeared on the startlist of the 5,000m event, a number of top athletes had entered their names for the season ending event but pulled out before the start of the competition.
Manju Bala Singh pulls out
Asian Games silver medalist Manju Bala Singh opted out of the women’s hammer throw event. KT Irfan, the national record holder in the 20km racewalk event too pulled out of the event citing a swelling in his ankle. The race was eventually won by Manish Singh Rawat of Uttarakhand in 1:33:17. Chandan Singh (Services) and Gurmeet Singh (Uttarakhand) were second and third in 1:34:36 and 1:35:01 respectively.
The most egregious example of a pull out though came when Asian Games silver medalist Khushbir Kaur quit in the middle of her race.
Kaur who had completed nearly half her race had opened a gap of around 70m from her rivals when coach Alexander Artsybashev insisted that she stop. Sources say that Artsybashev, who was initially against her competing because of high humidity, grew concerned that she may pick up an injury during her race. In the absence of Khushbir, who holds the national record of 1:31:40, the race was won by Sapna of All India Police in 1:49:58 while Rani Yadav (Railways) and Rajni (All India Police) were second and third with timings of 1:52:29 and 1:52:48 respectively.
Amidst the glut of below par results, Services pole vaulter Kundan set a new meet record with a leap of 5.06m to win gold ahead of Praveen Kumar (4.90m) and Bala Krishna (4.85m).