In a class of her own

TEN YEARS ago, no athletics fan would have believed that one day women would take to pole vault and clear the crossbars like men for the medals. But today it is not only happening but also the women are doing a pretty good job in major competitions.

There were times when the world athletics body was under the impression that certain events could not be opened to women because of their `frailty'. Marathon, steeple chase, hammer throw, pole vault and heptathlon were kept out of women's domain and after fighting for their right to take part in these events they have proved a point or two.

Recent surveys show that women are catching up with men on the track and field and they are doing it fast!

Pole vault may look harmless for the spectators sitting in the gallery. But it is a dangerous sport if the athletes are not properly trained. It is technically a tough and demanding one and needs regular practice under the close observation of pole vaulter-turned coaches. Even the modern fibre poles can break under tremendous pressure and cause harm to the athletes. This is one of the main reasons for the low number of participants in any competition for this particular event.

In the third Federation Cup junior athletics championship in October in Chennai, the 19-year-old V.S. Sureka of Tamil Nadu was in a class of her own. She was the main competitor in pole vault and she was also her own `challenger' as there was no one to push her hard in the field. The two girls who competed with her in the beginning could not even clear the mandatory height.

On her own Sureka tried to achieve another milestone in her career, but she could clear only 3.45 m. A month ago the Chennai girl set a new National mark in the Open meet at Bangalore by clearing 3.51 m.

Now the focus is shifting to Sureka in National-level events and she has gained considerable ground in just two years of her pole vault career. Women's pole vault is just five years old and the competition is just limited. It is this that makes Sureka a lone ranger at State level. Even in major National competitions her challengers are just two, Karamjit Kaur of Punjab and Sathi Solanki of Gujarat. Now she is confident of tackling them.

For a girl who took to pole vault by accident it has been a big success and Sureka wants to go up the ladder further. She was a good all-round athlete in the early years and had a penchant for long jump. She did 5.53 m to set a junior record. But four years ago, her haemoglobin level went down suddenly and she could not run even a short distance. Lack of proper food and irregular food habits saw her suffer. Her doctor advised her not to continue sports activities.

It was a minor setback and Sureka, whose parents migrated from Thrissur, her native place in Kerala, to Chennai to do business, bounced back after a brief treatment. It was during a rope climbing competition that coach P. Nagarajan of Central Excise told her to take to pole vault as her arms are strong.

That was the turning point in her athletics career. From 2.30 m in the Federation Cup junior meet at Bangalore in 2001 she has come up to 3.51m and it has been a steady and strong progress, which can lead her to medal winning performances at the Asian level. "I am confident of doing 3.60 m at the coming Afro Asian Games with the help of coach Manikavasagam. But my aim now is to clear 3.80 m. I am doing heptathlon in the A.L. Mudaliar meet here to keep me fit,' said Sureka.

"She took the right decision by switching to pole vault. We are watching her progress. Of course, she is a medal prospect. But we want her to clear at least 4 m before we send her abroad for further training,' said W.I. Davaram, President, TNAAA.

Sureka is an athlete with a goal to achieve. Having completed her 10th at St. Mary's, Red Hills, and 12th at SBOA School, she is now a final BCS student at MOP Vaishnav and is in a perfect position to get on with her sports career.


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