Dusk had fallen when shot-putter Inderjeet Singh shone through the mediocrity, which has plagued the first two days of the Federation Cup. Absence of some established stars, below-par performances from high-profile athletes had taken the sheen off the selection trials for the Asian Athletics Championships.
The crutch athletes used to defend their poor form varied from ‘coming back from a break’, ‘recovering from an injury’ to ‘lack of a worthy competitor’. Inderjeet didn’t take a break after winning gold at the National Games. On Saturday, he participated with puss oozing out of his left knee because of a follicular infection. None of the big burly men in the shot out final were competitive enough to push him. Tejinder Singh, who won silver, threw just 18.08, over two and a half metres less than Inderjeet’s 20.65.
But Inderjeet, standing at six foot and five inches and tipping the scales at 150 kilograms, made a giant stride by qualifying for the Rio Games. The qualifying standard in shot out for the Games is 20.50, and though Inderjeet missed the national record by three centimetres, it seems inevitable he will erase the mark because his consistency has been commendable. He has bettered his personal best three times in the past year — raising it from 19.89 at the last edition of the Federation Cup to 20.14 at National Games in February and now by half a metre more.
At the Mangala Stadium, his troublesome knee was a hindrance. An opening round of 19.74 was followed by 18.42, then came two consecutive ‘no marks’ before he produced what looked like his last big effort of the day — 19.99. But to his credit, Inderjeet had the strength and will power to summon his skill in the final round to erase the meet record.
He raised his arms to the sky, looked up and closed his eyes in a silent acknowledgement to his father who is no more. Next he stomped around and blew flying kisses to the spectators. Inderjeet, the Incheon Asian Games bronze-medallist, hoped his latest feat would bring him the recognition he craves for. Incidentally, when the initial list of athletes to benefit from the sport ministry’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme was drafted, Inderjeet was not included. At the age of 25, he still does not have a job and owes friends close to Rs 15 lakh — money borrowed to meet his dietary expenses, kit, medical and training needs over the years. His family had to mortgage their cloth shop to make ends meet.
“It is upsetting that I have not got the kind of support I deserve either from the government or from sponsors. I have been consistently improving yet people don’t seem to care. I am determined to win an Olympic medal for the country no matter whatever hardship me and my family have to go through,” Inderjeet said.
He will now return to the Bhim Singh Stadium in Bhiwani to continue training under coach Pritam Singh. “I have come up the hard way. I don’t go around asking for a foreign coach or a training base abroad or a foreign recovery expert. I am happy to train at the most basic stadium with an Indian coach. In return, all I am asking for is the recognition my talent deserves.”
Day 2: TALKING POINTS
* Nine athletes, including Inderjeet, met the qualifying guidelines for the Asian Athletics Championships to be held in Wuhan next month. Those who made the cut are javelin throwers Devender Singh (79.65m) and Neeraj Chopra (73.96m). Three 400 metre hurdlers, two men and a woman — Durgesh Kumar Pal (50.29s), Ramachandran (50.35) and Anu Raghavan (59.13) also qualified.
* Tintu Luka led from start to finish in 800 metres, but only managed 2:04.14 — far off her personal best but good enough to qualify for the Asian meet.
* Long jumper Ankit Sharma, who touched 8.04 metres at National Games, took the gold with 7.99 and will be on the flight to Wuhan.