Love for relay heartening, but where is the planning
sports Updated: May 29, 2016 08:35 IST
NEW DELHI: India’s love affair with the women’s 4x400 metres relay is well known. It provided a high when the hosts won gold at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games.
But everything came crashing after the doping scandal in 2011 saw India’s six top 400m runners banned for two years. The man at the centre of that row, Ukrainian coach Yuri Ogorodnik, has been hired again to help the team qualify for the Rio Olympics.
Athletics Federation of India (AFI) officials are irritated with questions on Ogorodnik’s appointment while the runners are struggling with poor form as the July 11 deadline for qualification approaches.
The federation and coach have little explanation for a lack of proper planning. The AFI has stuck with Ogorodnik for over a decade. He guided the quartet to the final at the 2004 Athens Olympics, but with 10 weeks left for Rio, there is concern the team may not meet the mark.
Current performances and the doping past are the issues. The core group training in Spala, Poland, dished out pedestrian performances at a local meet a week ago.
Anilda Thomas, India’s top 400m runner, clocked 53.27 seconds and MR Poovamma came in at 53.50 seconds. Debashree Majumdar, ran 55.16 seconds.
A month ago, in the first domestic meet held in New Delhi, Thomas had clocked 52.40 secs and Poovamma a season’s best of 52.60. The runners and their coaches had then blamed Delhi’s hot weather for not running faster.
They can’t blame the weather in Lodz, the meet venue, which was 25 degrees Centigrade on Saturday evening, perfect running conditions in the European summer.
The AFI secretary, CK Valson, says the coach has told him the “athletes are training hard, so don’t expect good results at this moment”. The relay team, he says, will start peaking from June 15 and compete till August third week, when the first round heats is scheduled in Rio.
Heavier training does lead to slower race timings. But in the past, top athletes used to lie low for most of the season on the pretext of heavy training load and then spring a surprise in a key event.
For example, Manjeet Kaur, coached by Ogorodnik, set the national 400m record of 51.05 secs in Chennai to achieve the A qualifying standard (51.50) for the 2004 Olympics. Still, she didn’t enter the individual event in Athens, running only the relay. She never repeated her performance despite remaining a key relay team member until 2010. She retired in 2011.
In 2010, Renubala Mahanta jumped 6.11m to win the long jump silver at the Asian junior meet in Hanoi. Three weeks later, her best jump at the IAAF world junior meet in Moncton, Canada, was 4.37m. She was 20th in the qualifying stage, but was still tested and found positive for a banned steroid.
In October, the national squad had a 90-day advanced training stint in Turkey, a country that had returned many positive dope tests. The runners were not impressive at the February South Asian Games in Guwahati, but returned to Turkey for another month of training.
India won relay gold at the 2014 Incheon Asiad, but slipped to second in the continental meet last year. The Rio qualification will be tough. Only the top 16 nations will gain entry. To figure in that list, at least four runners in the squad of six must run 400m under 52 seconds and the relay squad must post its two fastest timings before July 11.