When Jisna Mathew crouched down on the starting blocks of the 400 metres women’s final, she had reason to be nervous. In the inside lane, No. 4, was MR Poovamma, the best 400 metre runner in the country and the Incheon Asian Games bronze-medal winner. Tintu Luka, Jisna’s fellow trainee at the Usha School of Athletics, was readying in the lane beside the one Poovamma was occupying.
This was billed as the race between the country’s premier quarter-miler and the proven 800 metre star. Jisna, at 16, was participating at her first-ever senior competition. She was competing against women athletes who had been in the sport for nearly a decade. She had no business being in the final. Her inexperience resulted in a slow start when the gun went off and by the first curve Karnataka’s Poovamma was snapping at her heels. Jisna tried to hold off Poovamma briefly but the speed and strength of the senior athlete was far superior.
Kerala’s Tintu soon inched ahead of Jisna. Tintu’s statemate Anu R produced a strong race and in the final stretch beat her to the silver, while Poovamma, expectedly, took the gold. Jisna followed Tintu to finish fourth. But her performance over two days had made heads turn at the Mangala Stadium.
At the recent National Youth Athletics Championships, Jisna had qualified for the world youth meet by winning gold with a timing of 56.50 seconds.
On Monday in the final of the 400 metres, at the Federation Cup, she clocked a personal best of 54.53, to improve on her 54.68 in the heats on Sunday.
Both her timings at the Federation Cup were an improvement on the 12 year-old youth national record — her age category — in the 400 metres which Pinki Pramanik had set in 2003.
The quick progress of the girl from Alakode village in Kannur district of Kerala has made her the one to watch out for in the future. Ajith Markose, Sinimol Paulose’s coach, believes Jisna’s timing at the Federation Cup is special.
“To clock such timings at such a young age is noteworthy,” Ajith said of the girl who is part of the Indian team for the World Youth Championships to be held in Columbia next month. Her coach PT Usha says the day is not far away when Jisna will dip under 53.50.
” Jisna has made steady progress at the School Nationals and at the youth level. She has been running the 100 and the 200 and it is only recently that she has moved to the 400. In order to gain experience I made her run the 400 in the Federation Cup. I am happy with her progress,” Usha said.
The coach believes Jisna is capable of clocking sub two-minutes and four-second times in her very first race when she shifts to the 800, an event in which Tintu holds the national record of 1:59.17. “At this stage I would say Jisna is as good if not better than what Tintu was,” Usha adds.
Jisna was first picked from a selection trial conducted by the Usha School of Athletics in 2011 and is one of the athletes the coach believes has untapped potential.