Tintu Luka had to do with one race less in the morning session of the National championships as limited entries in the women’s 800 metres resulted in the event being scheduled as a direct final. But some drama was in store for the Kerala girl and the rest of the 400m runners with coaches haggling over lane allotments after the heats were reshuffled.
The runners were kept waiting for one hour after having warmed up, with technical officials and coaches engaged in heated arguments. Originally, there were 26 runners and four heats. Twenty-two reported in time, forcing the technical officials to adjust the heats in an effort to avoid the afternoon semifinals.
When two more athletes came in late, there arose an argument over lane allocations, though the number of heats remained three with the semifinals scrapped.
The coaches in the National camp stood their ground in vociferously demanding “better lanes” for their runners. P.T. Usha chipped in to ensure that her wards, Luka and Ashwathy Mohanan, were also not handicapped though she did say that they were ready to run in “any lane”.
Eventually, almost every runner crowded around the technical bench to enquire what was happening. Enraged technical officials suggested to the National coaches including a foreign coach that they could draw the heats to their satisfaction if such interference was to be tolerated. Usha reminded everyone around that this was a National and not a meet meant solely for the campers.
Luka won her heat in 54.21s to lead the qualifiers into the final. K. Sowjanya (54.73), Manjeet Kaur (55.09), K. Mrudula (55.27) and Chitra Soman (55.34) were among the qualifiers for the final. Inexplicably, Mandeep Kumar, season leader (53.92) and last year’s leader (51.74) pulled out at the last moment.