The Asian Athletics Championships in Pune didn’t have the grand setting of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi or the Guangdong Olympic Stadium where India’s women’s 4×400 relay squad won gold at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games respectively. Related: China on track: Work in progress
Neither was the Shiv Chhaterpati Sports Complex stadium a packed house. The steady rain had made it far from ideal for athletes on the final day of the Championships. It was in this scenario that the women’s 4×400 metres relay team redeem itself after two years that were marked by mediocre performances since Ashwini Akkunji,Sini Jose,Mandeep Kaur,Priyanka Panwar,winners at Delhi and Guangdong,were banned from competition with a two-year ban for dope violation.
Nirmala,Tintu Luka,Anu Mariam Jose and MR Poovamma had never run a competitive race together as a relay squad before Sunday but they beat the Chinese and the Japanese by over three seconds to not only win gold but also clock 3:32.26,a timing well within the World Championships cut off standard of 3:33.00.
The girls though had to battle a sense of insecurity leading up to the final.
There was confusion in the ranks of the women’s quarter-mile relay team once it came to light that the Athletics Federation of India had forwarded a formal request to the Asian Athletics Association (AAA) to field Ashwini and Priyanka,two of the quarter-milers who had completed 24-month bans for steroid violation last week.
It was only late on Friday that the final squad for the women’s 4×400 relay team was finalised. PT Usha,part of one of the finest relay squads in Asia in the 1980s,said that by finalising the squad late,the AFI selectors had only potentially hurt the confidence of the team that ‘ran the race of their lives’.
On the track the girls had shut out the events of the past week. The strides taken were confident and the anchor-leg was run at a blistering pace by Poovamma after Luka and then Anu gave India the advantage ahead of the final baton exchange.
India weren’t favourites going into the second lap as Nirmala could only hand the baton over to Luka as the third fastest. Luka,however,didn’t run out of steam. She had finished third in the 800 metres final less than an hour ago yet stayed neck and neck with the Japanese and the Kazakh runners,handing the baton to Anu who build-up a good lead. With Poovamma waiting to run the anchor-leg and Anu creating space between herself and the rest of the field,the question was not whether India would win gold but whether the timing would be good enough to enter the Worlds.
Celebrations of old
Like Ashwini,Poovamma is also long-limbed and coaches believe she has the talent to make rapid strides at the Asian level. Three days ago,Poovamma saw her unbeaten run in the 400 metres this season being broken. Sunday,though,belonged to her as she anchored the team to their first major gold since the dope scandal broke out. As the team embraced at the finish line and unfurled a tri-colour,the celebrations were similar to that in Delhi and Guangzhou.
Two years ago at the Asian Athletics Championships in Kobe,a hurriedly put together women’s 4×400 relay team won a silver. The event in Japan was held just a few months after the dope positive test results. One among the four who ran in that silver-medal winning team was OP Jaisha,who specialises in the 1500 metres and the 5000 metres. K Mrudula,Jhuma Khatun and Tintu Luka were running only because the first-choice runners were banned.
The silver didn’t really shine and reflected more on the fact that the competition was average. The time recorded – 3 minutes and 44.17 seconds was mediocre even by Asian standards. Subsequently,India wouldnt qualify for the London Games.
In the churning that happened after the dope scandal,Poovamma emerged as the brightest star from the younger lot who had the responsibility to keep the flag flying in an event in which India have won gold at the Asian Games and reached the final at the Olympics.
With the next stop being Moscow,it waits to be seen how many of these girls will make the final team for the World Championships as Ashwini and Priyanka will push to regain places in the squad during selection trials.
This is my biggest night till date. I was a stand-by along with Sini Jose for the Beijing Olympics. The gold shows that India has the talent to do well in the 4×400 women’s relay again, Poovamma said.
The gold along with the three silver and four bronze won on Sunday took India’s tally to 17 for a sixth-place finish in the overall medal tally.
Satinder Singh in the men’s 400 metre hurdles won the first medal of the day,a bronze. Two medals were won in the men’s triple jump and the women’s 200 metres. Renjit Maheshswary (16.76m) had to settle for silver in the men’s triple jump,losing the first place by a centimetre to China’s Cao Shuo. Arpinder Singh won the bronze with 16.58 metres.
Asha Roy finished second and Dutee Chand took silver and bronze in the women’s 200. There was drama in the men’s high jump with the top three all clearing 2.21 metres. In the jump back at which the bar was placed at 2.18,the Chinese Bi Xiaoliang was successful and India’s Jithin Thomas and Iran’s Keyvan Ghanbarzadeh shared the silver.