Indian relay teams, hoping to make the cut for the Olympics, face a tough challenge in the next three months as they look to realise their dream of competing in the quadrennial Games.
That of late almost everyone in authority has tended to project the women's 4x400m relay team as a possible medal contender in London, is only because of an ill-informed analysis of the world standards.
Expectations have of course been high since that delirious moment of an impossible-looking gold in the Commonwealth Games, in front of over 50,000 spectators, in a fabulous 3:27.77, the country's best since the National record of 3:26.89 in the Athens Olympics heats.
Team in disarray
That team is in disarray now. Three of them — Ashwini A.C. Sini Jose and Mandeep Kaur — are serving doping suspensions. Manjeet Kaur, the fourth, has not run a race or joined the camp since competing in the 400m heats (55.94s) at the Bangalore inter-State last June.
With six of the top female 400m runners under suspension (the others being Jauna Murmu, Tiana Mary Thomas and Priyanka Panwar), can India hope to make the top-16 grade in the 4x400m to be eligible to compete in the Olympics?
Notwithstanding the uncertainties caused by an IAAF appeal in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the re-instatement testing process for at least the two ‘international-level' athletes ( Mandeep and Murmu) that could stretch beyond the Olympics, where does the team stand in the race for the London slot?
The relay chase is really on now. As on March 2, the 16th team (Canada) in the evolving performance chart in the women's 4x400m, on the basis of the average of the best two results (from January 1, 2011), has a timing of 3:30.64. India will need to better that by the deadline of July 2.
India qualified in 15th place for the Beijing Games (average qualification time 3:30.42) and was out in the heats, clocking 3:28.83.
Can Ashwini and Co pull it off in the Asian All-Star meet in Almaty, Kazkhstan on July 1 just as another team clocked 3:28.29 in Korat, Thailand, in June, 2008 to join the Bejing bandwagon?
Individual 400m timings have slumped since 2010. From three sub-53 in 2010 (Mandeep, Manjeet and Murmu), last year saw only Ashwini (52.82 in Bangalore) clocking a sub-53. That will be erased now following doping disqualification and Jose's 53.76s prior to disqualification will top.
M.R. Poovamma, currently the best of the rest in the camp, had a 53.87s last year, while Mrudula Korada, another girl among the core probables, had 54.69.
A 3:35 could be possible for a second-string Indian quartet including Tintu Luka through the Asian Grand Prix circuit in Thailand in May. The 3:44.17 that a scratch combination timed at the Asian championships in Kobe last year is the best that India has so far in the relay calculations that began on January 1, 2011.
Tougher for men
It is a tough task then for the women's 4x400m relay team. Tougher it would turn out to be for the men's 4x100m and 4x400m relay teams.
The men's 4x100m team has to aim 39.01, the average that the 16th team (China) has at the moment while the longer relay team should belooking at the 3:03.68 that Japan (16th) has right now.
The incredible 38.89 that the Indian men's sprint team clocked for the bronze in the Delhi Commonwealth Games is a timing of the past. The slump has been sudden, though not unexpected, for the sprinters.
Joint National record holder Abdul Najeeb Qureshi came down from his 10.30s in 2010 to 10.62s last year when he also ran a couple of 11-plus seconds for the 100. Shameer Mon was down from 10.46 to 10.55 while Rahmatullah Molla fell from 10.44 to 10.72.
In the last 10 years only once has an Indian men's 4x400m team clocked better than 3:03.68. That was the 3:03.15 timed in an Asian GP meet inSongkhla, Thailand, in 2004.
Unless there is an extended training camp in Yalta, Ukraine, as was the case for the women's 400m runners and the sprinters prior to the Commonwealth Games, that helped shape India's destiny in 2010, it looks a Herculean task for the relay teams.