Seven year ago, when a bunch of 400m women athletes clocked an astonishing sub-52 seconds, everyone thought a new era in Indian athletics had been ushered in. However, instead of improving their timing, the runners either faded away or struggled to stay afloat even at home.
The star of the 2004-2005 season was Manjeet Kaur, who still holds the national record of 51.05s.
Such was her speed that her brilliant relay leg of 49.85sec helped the women's 4x400m team reach the final of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. Surprisingly, Manjeet did not run in the final.Her teammates --- Sathi Geetha (51.75s), Chitra K Soman (51.30s), Rajwinder Kaur (51.57s) and the seasoned KM Beenamol too had a fabulous season -- all running below 52s.
Despite the promise, these athletes never participated in the European circuit. In fact, within a year or two, Rajwinder Kaur and Chitra K Soman faded away; Beenamol retired.
Lesser-known athletes like Sagardeep Kaur and Ashik Beevi, both 400m, made a brief appearance in the national relay team and then vanished. Despite better training facilities and more international exposure, Manjeet has failed to better her performance.
Not just that, 2004-05 happened to be the best for most of the 400m runners. Experts believe this was because of the vigilance by anti-doping authorities.
"With the stakes high in the CWG and Asian Games, the athletes must have been put through some sort of a programme," said a former national coach.
What went wrong? Manjeet is the only member of the victorious CWG and Asian Games women's 4x400m team who hasn't tested positive.
The career graph of almost all the runners of the 2004-2005 batch indicates a steady decline. Youngsters like Sini Jose, Jauna Murmu and Mandeep too have been erratic.
Mandeep failed to register her best at the 2008 Beijing Games after clocking a personal best of 51.74s in 400m three months before the mega event.
Coach RS Sidhu says the erratic performance is due to gaps in training.