Two months ago, Mohammed Salahuddin came into the Indian team for the Asian athletics championship at the last minute, after a lot of pressure from many quarters.

There were many in the Athletics Federation of India who felt that the 19-year-old Tamil Nadu triple jumper would wilt under pressure in the Pune event. But Salahuddin finished a creditable sixth and came up with a personal best 15.71m.

Salahuddin is one of the big stars here for the 25th National junior inter-zone athletics championship which begins at the Maharaja’s Stadium on Sunday.

“This year has been a wonderful one for me,” said the youngster, the son of former international Mohammed Nizamuddin who is also his coach. “I won a medal in my first-ever senior national meet in Chennai and took part in my first senior international meet. I now want to break the 16m barrier here and this being my last junior year, I want to get it very badly.”

As Salahuddin spoke of his new goal, Kerala’s Jessy Joseph, who has cut down her personal best in the 800m very impressively this season, appeared good to better it here.

With many of the country’s promising youngsters competing in the ongoing Asian Schools Championship in Kuala Lumpur, the quality quotient has come down a few notches here.

The top two finishers of the country’s four zonal meets are eligible to compete here but since many of the top juniors had missed the zonals (they had gone for the Asian Youth Games in China in August), the AFI allowed them to take part in the Kochi meet as a special case.

Unfortunately, the national body AFI had taken that decision only a couple of days ago and just about four or five athletes who went for the Asian Youth Games could make it to Kochi. Nearly a thousand boys and girls in four age groups (under-14, 16, 18 and under-20) will be in action here.

Tamil Nadu’s sprinter-hurdler P. Deepika, Kerala walker K.T. Neena, high jumper Gayathri Sivakumar are among the other prominent athletes for the event here.

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