Anyone who follows athletics closely in India will know how much the standards fell in the past year. Despite the Asian Games in December, none of the athletes came up with any notable performances on the domestic circuit.
The season started off with the Federation Cup in New Delhi that doubled as trials for the Commonwealth Games. But controversy erupted as some of the top athletes went missing from the national camp in Patiala, allegedly to escape WADA’s random dope tests, just before the meet. They were barred from participating in the Fed Cup as the Athletic Federation of India convened a two-day meeting to decide on the punishments.
The below-par performances were also attributed to the fact that the team for Melbourne had already been leaked.
Even the national circuits did not attract much attention as the better-known names were missing. Sprinter Manjeet Kaur missed most of the season due to injury, as did KM Binu, owing to appendicitis and then an ankle injury. Long jumper Anju Bobby George was the only crowd-puller but she too disappointed, failing to finish any better than 6.53m.
The throwers too did not have any performances worth mentioning. The sad part, and something that should cause AFI concern, was that there was no competition for Seema Antil and Krishna Poonia despite their poor performances.
Through all these below-par performances, there were a few comebacks and fresh faces introduced. 2006 was probably Pinki Pramanik’s best year as she broke meet records in the 800m and 400m and won five gold and a silver in both events in all the three legs of the Asian Grand Prix. She was also included in the 4X400 relay team for the Asian Games. Her season’s best of 52.46s in 400m and 2:02.49s in 800m were quite impressive.
With the spotlight on, secrets came tumbling out of her closet. She had been once linked to naxaliites and a gun had been found in her kit. But, even as questions were raised about her personal life, she concentrated harder on her game. The efforts paid dividends as she ended with an Asiad gold as part of the relay team.
Heptathlete Sushmita Singha Roy was the comeback queen post-marriage. It was a constant fight between Soma Biswas and Sushmita as they kept swapping the top spot in national meets, hovering around the 5600 points, but Roy was surprisingly ignored for the Asiad in favour of JJ Shobha.
Despite shoddy performances, there were four national records broken. Jora Singh set a new mark in decathlon with 7502 points in the national circuit in Delhi, while P Shankar broke the record in 400m hurdles with a time of 50.39s in Bangalore. Preeja Sridharan set a national record in 10,000m in Delhi with a time of 34:11.45s and pole vaulter VS Sureka cleared 4.05m in Delhi.
The Asiad were perhaps the final indictment of the falling graph of Indian athletics. Compared to India’s medal haul of 15 medals, including seven gold at Busan, the athletes could only manage 10 medals, with only one gold, four silvers and four bronze this time around. Clearly, the AFI needs to do a lot more if it has to ensure any medals in future.