Last week the Athletics Federation of India, buoyed by the record number of athletes who have qualified for the Rio Olympics, gave those who were within touching distance of meeting qualifying standards another chance by conducting back-to-back Indian Grand Prix events. To be held on July 10 and July 11 – the last day for qualification – the Grand Prix was being seen as a last chance saloon. By Monday evening with the addition of triple jumper Renjith Maheswary, 800 metre runner Jinson Johnson and 200 metre sprinter Dharambir Singh, 39 Indians — 29 individuals and 12 as part of teams — have qualified in athletics for the 2016 Olympics. This contingent comprises the men and women 4×400 metre relay teams – official entry of these squads will be confirmed on Tuesday.
Given the spurt in performances of Indian athletes in the run-up to the games, there was hope that more qualifiers would emerge from the Grand Prix events. And as has been the case over the past few months, there were commendable performances from athletes who had the potential and somehow found a way to peak at the right time.
On Monday, one such athlete was veteran triple-jumper Maheswary. His best over the last three years ago – 16.98 metres – and the experienced hop-skip and jump exponent has been struggling to reach peak form. However, at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore, the 30-year-old jumped beyond expectations to break the national record with a massive jump of 17.30 metres, the third best in the world this year only behind behind Americans Christian Taylor (17.76) and Will Claye (17.65).
The previous national record stood at 17.17 metres in the name of Arpinder Singh, who has undergone a dip in form and failed to qualify for the Games.
Incidentally, Maheswary crossed the Rio qualifying standard before setting the national record. His third round jump of 16.93m got him on the flight to Rio as the mark he had to cross was 16.85 metres.
“The weather was not congenial in Hyderabad. I tried to qualify in Thailand but fouled a couple of jumps. The runway in this Bengaluru stadium is good and that helped me to accomplish my dream of making it to Rio,” the former Asian champion said.
Monday’s performance was a sort of redemption for him after he was usurped as the best triple jumper in the country by the younger Arpinder. In the past he has been criticised after ‘no marks’ in two major events-the World championships in 2011 at Daegu and the Olympic Games in London the following year – but on Monday he proved that he has enough fight in him for one more Olympics. This will be his third Olympic Games after Beijing and London.
In the men’s 200 metre, Dharambir of Haryana made a strong return to form by breaking his own national record of 20.66 by stopping the clock at 20.45 seconds. The qualifying standard in the event is 20.50 but the mercurial runner who is not a regular at the national camp is a proven performer.
Dharambir had set the previous record at the Asian championships at Wuhan last year. In all 11 athletes from India have participated in the men’s 200 at the Games but Dharambir will be the first since Tamil Nadu’s Perumal Subramaniam in 1980 at Moscow.
India’s 800 metre specialist, Jinson Johnson recorded the second best performance ever by an Indian in the event – after Sri Ram Singh’s seventh place finish in Montreal Olympics forty years ago with a timing of 1:45.77 – to qualify for Rio. The qualifying standard was set at 1:46.00 and Johnson crossed the line in 1:45.98. Johnson is a silver medalist in last year’s Asian championships at Wuhan and also had won all the three legs of Asian Grand Prix held at Thailand in 2015.
After the end of European championships in Amsterdam last night the Indian men and women 4x400m relay teams were currently in 13th position (top-16 teams qualify in relays) in the rankings.