With several medal-winning performances in recent inter-state and Open National events, the top athletes from Tamil Nadu exude an air of confidence these days

The top Tamil Nadu athletes, all in their early twenties, are nonchalant. And they don’t hesitate to display this new-found attitude for they believe they belong to the best. “We are not scared of anyone, nowadays. Reputation doesn’t matter at all to us. We believe in taking on the best and emerging triumphant,” says A. Suresh, a leading hurdler.

Reigning National Games gold medallist in 110m hurdles, J. Surendhar believes Tamil Nadu athletes are no longer afraid of failure or situations, and are prepared to face challenges head-on. “We have put our failures behind us and moved on. We are hard-working and focussed,” he says.

Efforts pay off

Former National hurdler and reputed coach M.V. Rajasekhar believes Tamil Nadu athletes are extraordinarily talented and determined, and can only get better. “Tamil Nadu has the best facilities. Besides, it is primarily because of the athletes’ individual efforts and the help of their personal coaches that the State has been doing well,” he says.

In the senior National inter-state meet held in June 2012, Tamil Nadu finished second in the men’s section and third, overall. And if the performance of the State in the 52nd Open National meet held at the Nehru Stadium in Chennai last week is anything to go by, then it certainly holds the promise of better times.

Of the 54-member Tamil Nadu contingent that participated in the Open Nationals, two won two gold (A. Suresh in the men’s 110m hurdles and K. Prem Kumar in the men’s long jump events), one bagged silver (J. Surendhar) and two won bronze medals ( K. Prem Kumar in the men’s 110m hurdles and Binu in the men’s 400m hurdles).

W.I. Davaram, president, Tamil Nadu Athletics Association, believes it is a creditable display. He says it’s a “very good” performance given the fact many of the State’s top athletes represented Services, Railways and All India Police. “When you talk about Tamil Nadu’s performance in the Nationals, I will also take into reckoning the performance of our athletes who have won medals for Services and Railways. Our main objective has been to help the athletes get employment,” says Davaram.

He goes on to list some Tamil Nadu athletes who finished on the podium — Railways’ L. Suriya (gold in 5000m and 10,000m), LIC’s Delphinrani (silver in long jump), All-India Police’s Papathi (gold in 400m hurdles), Ramachandran of Services (gold in men’s 3000m steeplechase) and V.S. Surekha (silver in women’s pole vault).

A. Suresh, J. Surendhar and K. Prem Kumar (all representing Tamil Nadu) finished in the top three in the men’s 110m hurdles final of the Open Nationals — this was described as a rare achievement. In fact, of the eight athletes in the men’s 110m hurdles, seven were from Tamil Nadu.

On the right track

Rajasekhar says Tamil Nadu is progressing on the right track, and if the selection of athletes to the Tamil Nadu teams is announced well in advance, it will definitely help them plan their travel better. P. Nagarajan of St. Joseph's Sports Academy feels that if the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu recognises, rewards and involves the private coaches, it will help the sport. “Private academies produce many top athletes and SDAT can’t afford to ignore them,” he says.

The absence of star athlete G. Gayathri did raise eyebrows, for her name was announced at the press conference. Everyone was looking forward to the comeback of the Tamil Nadu athlete, who couldn’t compete in any event for two years after the injury she suffered in the triple jump event at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

Her coach Nagarajan announced just a few days before the Nationals that Gayathri had contracted malaria and her health had suffered considerably. He, however, assured she was now fit and would take part in the St. Joseph’s inter-collegiate invitation meet beginning in Chennai on September 25.

The Senior National inter-state meet to be held in April-May 2013 in Chennai prior to the Asian championship will give a clear picture of the host’s rising status.