Mediocre domestic circuit drawing to a close

PATIALA OCT. 13. If you took out Anju B. George's historic bronze at the World championships in Paris, it has been an unspectacular year for Indian athletics. The athletes, still to recover from the disastrous showing in the Asian championships in Manila, are now gearing themselves up for the Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad, a fortnight away.

Since the overall performances have been patchy and some of the top-notchers have not been available, the task of the selectors in finalising a team for the Afro-Asian Games is going to be that much more difficult. They have a final chance to assess the athletes in the last National circuit meet, scheduled to come off at the Netaji Subhash National Institute of Sports here on Tuesday, the first such meet within the complex of the premier coaching centre.

What should the selectors be looking for and what can they learn that they have not understood so far about the Indian athletes? Very little unless they are prepared to look at the selection process in the long-term perspective and avoid the temptation to plump for the tried and the worn-out.

The medal winners at the last Asian Games are automatic choices for the Asian team at the Hyderabad games unless there are doubts about their fitness as could be the case with India's K.M. Beenamol and Bahadur Singh, both gold medal winners at Busan.

India, as the host, has a `free entry' in each of the events. It is quite possible that in the eventual permutations and combinations, that single entry could be enlarged to include one or two more home athletes.

Competing at home has its own advantages, the apparent ones and the not-so-apparent ones. Thus, most of the athletes should be keen to get into the Afro-Asian team. To achieve that they have to come up with something better than they have done so far in a majority of events. Just imagine, there is not a single sub-46-second effort in the men's 400m this season. The best so far has been the 46.04s by K.J. Manojlal at the Open National in Bangalore.

Likewise, barring Anil Kumar, Piyush Kumar and Sanjay Ghosh, no other sprinter has clocked below 10.50s, though, collectively the sprinters did as good a job as the quarter-milers in the relay at the Manila Asian championships. No woman has clocked below 53.00s for the 400m, though an inexperienced quartet did well enough to grab a bronze in the relay in Manila.

While the current standards in the 400 and 800 metres, though considerably below par even in the Asian context, are still within the `hopeful' range, they are well beyond retrieval in the 1500m and upwards in the men's section. If proof was needed, Manila showed it in plenty.

Something drastic needs to be done to pep up our long distance runners and though efforts are on in the Armed forces to groom such talent, nothing tangible has accrued, making one wonder where the distance runners are headed. Aman Saini's 32:47.73 in the 10,000m at Manila was an embarrassing result for the Indian camp.

An improved display here will boost the morale of the athletics fraternity as India prepares to face the `best in Asia and Africa' in Hyderabad. The Open National in Bangalore did show a few notable results, especially the 11.70s and 23.75 by Bengal's Saraswati Saha, coming back from a long lay-off. Needless to say, the coaches should be looking forward to a still better show from Saraswati as well as from Sunita Rani, who skipped the Manila championships in order to concentrate on her Afro-Asian Games preparations.

Beenamol as well as Anju George will continue to stay away from the domestic competition, the former since she is just back from an injury and the latter since she has to now re-focus herself on the Afro-Asian Games towards the end of a hectic and memorable season.

The schedule of events:

Men: 100m, 400m, 800m, 5000m, 110m hurdles, long jump, triple jump, shot put, discus and javelin.

Women: 100m, 400m, 1500m, 100m hurdles, long jump, discus and hammer.

Field events will be restricted to only four attempts.

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