Last week, Haryana quarter-miler Nirmala Sheoran improved her personal best by clocking an impressive 51.48 seconds, taking the number of Indian athletes to qualify for Rio Olympics to 24. Nirmala’s performance came as a bolt from the blue as her personal best, according to the IAAF, before the meet in Hyderabad was over two seconds slower, 53.94 seconds in Chennai in 2013.
On Monday, when specifically asked about her, Athletics Federation of India (AFI) president Adille Sumariwalla raised concerns about the inconsistency in the timings she clocks, primarily the big difference at the championships in Hyderabad. In the heats of that meet, Sheoran had clocked 52.35 seconds.
“She comes as a one spurt and then disappears. She again comes as a one spurt and then disappears. I have no idea why that keeps happening. Her inconsistency is a concern, yes,” Sumariwalla said. “We have tested her. Although she is not regularly tested, but we have tested her now, after she clocked that timing.”
According to Sumariwalla, Sheoran trained outside the national camp in Hyderabad, making it difficult for the federation to monitor their movements. “I cannot monitor people who are outside the camps conducted by AFI. I have no way to do that. I am already monitoring more than 200 athletes. I cannot monitor more than that,” he said.
Last week, five other athletes had qualified for Rio, taking the total of India’s track and field contingent for the Games to a record 24 — 12 men and 12 women.
Sumariwalla said the national and world anti-doping agencies have been routinely conducting dope tests on top Indian athletes, but conceded it is not possible for the federation to keep a check on every athlete. “I can’t tell you who is clean. We don’t plan (dope) tests; the National Anti Doping Agency and World Anti Doping Agency do that. All our athletes are on their watch list. Athletes like MV Poovamma and quarter-milers are tested more than 10 times. So I believe they should be fine,” he said on the sidelines of the launch of the Olympians Association of India.
Sumariwalla, who was on the IAAF panel that decided to ban Russia for its dope violations, said it is also tough for them to monitor Indian athletes training abroad but insisted they are on WADA’s radar. Currently, one batch of athletes is training in Spala, Poland, and a few are in the US. Earlier, the 4x400m relay teams and quarter-milers had a training stint in Turkey, which has among the highest dope violation cases in the world.
Asked if the federation can order all athletes to be present at the national camp so they can be closely monitored, Sumariwalla said in a light vein, “I wish this was China. Then I could have brought them in. We are in a democratic country.”