The Asian All Star later this month in Almaty will be the last opportunity for India's relay quartet to achieve their London dreams. But the 4x100m men's team has already fumbled with the 'finish line' nowhere in sight.
The charismatic performance at the Delhi Commonwealth Games — they clinched a bronze, a first in the CWG — is history.
Now, the likes of Krishna Kumar Rane, Shameer Mon, Manikanand Raj, BG Nagraj, Alameen and Abdul Najeeb Qureshi are faced with an embarrassing situation.
This despite their enigmatic Ukrainian coach, Dmytro Vanyaikin, still being the guiding force. It is strange that Vanyaikin's methods, which produced amazing results in 2010, are not able to inspire the athletes less than two years after the mega event.
Daggers are out and Vanyaikin's 'genius' is being questioned. "Why can't he prove himself in 2012?" asked a senior Indian coach. Prior to the CWG, the sprint team had a 45-day training stint in Ukraine to 'polish' their skills. But after the doping scandal, involving the Asian Games gold medal-winning women's 4x400 team, broke in 2011, the sports ministry banned all exposure-cum-training trips to the east European country, long blamed for India's doping mess.
Vanyaikin's methods started to be questioned after Suresh Satya, a key member of the 2010 bronze-winning team, failed a dope test and the other members went into a shell.
As things stand, the team, which clocked 38.89 seconds in the CWG, is currently timing 39.46s after a low of 40.38s at the Asian Championships in Japan last year, where they finished eighth. As the team prepares for the Almaty meet (June 30-July 1), the task of qualifying for London seems near impossible with individual sprinters in the top-six clocking between 10.51-10.76s, while the requirement is below 10.40s. To qualify, they need to be in the top-16 in the world but their ranking is below 20 (based on the current timings).
Abdul Najeeb Qureshi, who had equalled the national record of 10.30s during the CWG, is a spent force. Recently, during the Olympic qualification meet in Patiala (April 21-24), he 'crawled' to finish sixth in 10.76s. "He is medically unfit," said chief coach Bahadur Singh.
But the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) is not flustered. Secretary-general, CK Valson, said the fresh faces inducted in the camp, "are yet to pick up speed. It will take sometime for the team to click".
With just three weeks left for the final London qualifiers, time has already run out. "If the team fails in Almaty, it will be the end of the road for them," said Valson.