With star athletes weary, juniors sense an opening

The National Open Athletics Championships, which begins at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium Sunday, isn’t a laughing matter.

Written by Jonathan Selvaraj | New Delhi | Updated: November 2, 2014 8:57 am

It is not unusual for coaches and athletes to talk shop ahead of a big competition. But when Asian Games gold medalist (4×400) MR Poovamma caught up with Tintu Luka’s coach PT Usha at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium Saturday, it wasn’t athletics they were discussing. Rather amidst laughter they discussed the difficulty of buying a dress for a particularly skinny junior trainee of Usha.

The National Open Athletics Championships, which begins at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium Sunday, isn’t a laughing matter. It is one of the three most prestigious events in India (the others being the National Inter-State and Federation Cup). However, unlike the latter two events, which served as a sort of qualification event ahead of the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games respectively, the National Open Championships seems to struggle for much significance.

While the athletes, including Poovamma and CWG bronze medalist Arpinder Singh dutifully go through their training rituals ahead of the competition, it is hard to miss the fact that the competition cycle for all purposes has ended.

PT Usha says as much. “Actually, this is usually the most important tournament of the year. But this year the timing is such that it doesn’t serve much purpose from a competition point of view. It would have helped the athletes more if they got the competition before the Asian Games. We are nearly seven months away from the next major competition (world championships) so this championship can’t serve as competition to that as well,” she says.

However, Usha admits a few athletes could stand to benefit. “This Championships will benefit some of the talented youngsters for whom the season has not yet ended. We have the Junior Nationals later this month and after that there is the Inter-University,” says Usha.

One youngster looking to make the most of the competition is Jessy Joseph who like another of  Usha’s trainees —Tintu Luka — runs the 800m.  “Jessy’s style of running is very different to Tintu. She is an endurance runner, while Tintu is someone who sets the pace early. So now that she has a fast field, she will be able to run a fast race,”Usha says of Joseph, who won a silver at the Asian Junior Championships in Taipei in June this year. Joseph for her part is confident of improving her personal best.  “My personal best right now is  two minutes and six seconds. (recorded at the Asian Junior Championships). But I think I will be able to reduce this to two minutes and 4 seconds during this competition,”she says.

Also looking to improve her personal best is Navjeet Kaur who won a bronze at the Junior World Championships this year. “I didn’t have much time to train in India since winning the bronze at the World Championships. So at the Federation Cup,(which served as a qualification event for the Asian games) I wasn’t able to perform as well as I would have liked. If I had a few more weeks to prepare I would have been able to have qualified for the Asian Games,”says Kaur.

Kaur isn’t worried about the fact that owing to the ISL taking part in the same venue, all throwing events will be held at the training facility adjacent to the main stadium.

“It doesn’t matter that we will be throwing in the practice area outside the stadium. In fact it may actually be lucky for me. I once threw 57m in practice over here, which is better than my competition best of 56m,”says Kaur.

Sanjeevani left in the lurch  

Talented junior middle distance runner Sanjeevani Jadhav might miss the National Open Athletics Championships after she was not included in the Maharashtra state squad. Jadhav, 17, had set two junior records in the 3,000m and 5,000m, respectively, at the All India Junior championship in Chennai earlier this year. She subsequently won a bronze in the 3,000m at the Asian Junior championships. Jadhav, who had run the 5,000m in 17.11.27 minutes in Chennai, had subsequently improved her timing to 16.50.06 at the Federation Cup in Patiala. “Sanjeevani is a very talented junior. Even the AFI officials were asking why she isn’t in the state team here,” said her coach Vijender Singh, who also trains Asian medallist Kavita Raut. While Jadhav had represented Goa at the Patiala meet, coach Vijender said the AFI officials had recommended that she represent Maharashtra in Delhi. “Our selection committee has decided that an athlete cannot be named to the state squad unless she takes part in the senior state championships. According to these rules Sanjeevani cannot be named in the senior state squad because she did not take part in the trials,” said Maharashtra Athletics association secretary Prahlad Sawant.

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