The 53rd Open National athletics championship is set to commence here at the Birsa Munda Stadium on Saturday but before it got off, one of India’s finest athletes, P.T. Usha, ticked it off for poor scheduling.

“The most important meet in India is being organised at the end of the season. How can we expect good performance from our athletes?” she questioned.

“If some athletes focus only on Open meet then they can do well. If someone focuses on international meets, then it is very difficult to perform at his or her best here.”

Usha was naturally peeved with the scheduling of the Open National by the Athletics Federation of India (AFI). “The Open meet should have been held before the World Championship thus providing another chance for Indian athletes to go for the qualifying mark,” she reasoned.

Despite coming at the end of the season, the four-day championship has attracted almost 1000 competitors from leading units and States. The meet, known for the fierce battle for supremacy between Indian Railways and Services will also have ONGC competing for honours.

Biggest contingent

Railways has the biggest contingent with 133 athletes. When the meet was held in Chennai last year, Railways had won the overall and women’s championship while Services took the men’s team honours.

Both Railways and ONGC have recruited a few talented athletes to make a greater impact.

The Jharkhand Athletic Association (JAA) will be hosting the championship for the second time since it came into being in 2000.

The undivided Bihar had hosted it three times in 1979, 1983 and 1995 all at Jamshedpur. And the 1983 meet saw Usha breaking the Asian 400m record on the mud track.

The following champions are expected to defend the titles won at Chennai as per the entries received from the respective teams:

Men: 400m: Arokia Rajiv (Services); 800/1500m: Sajeesh Joseph (Railways); 10000m: Inderjit Patel (ONGC); 110m hurdles: A. Suresh (Railways); 400m hurdles: Joseph G. Abraham (Railways).

High Jump: Jithin C. Thomas (Services); Pole vault: K.P. Bimin (Railways); Long jump: K. Prem Kumar (Railways); Triple jump: Renjith Maheswary (Railways).

Shot put: Jasdeep Singh (ONGC); Javelin: Davinder Singh (Services); Decathlon: Daya Ram (Services); 20km race walk: Babubhai Panucha (Services).

Women: 400m: M.R. Poovamma (ONGC); 800m: Tintu Luka (Railways); 5000/10000m: L. Suriya (Railways); 100m hurdles: M.M. Anchu (Railways); 400m hurdles: A. Papathi (Police).

3000m steeplechase: Priyanka Singh Patel (Railways); High jump: Sahana Kumari (Railways); Pole vault: Khyati S. Vakharia (ONGC); Long/Triple jump: Shraddha B. Ghule (ONGC); Shot put: Pinki Dey (Railways); Discus: Pramila (Railways).

Hammer: Manju Bala (Railways); Javelin: Annu Rani (Uttar Pradesh); Heptathlon: Liksy Joseph (Railways); 20km race walk: Khushbir Kaur (ONGC).

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