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Indian athletes not ready for Olympics

With less than a year left for the Olympic Games, beginning today, HT will run an eight-part series on the Indian team's preparations, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses and their potential to win medals in the showpiece event.

india Updated: Jul 28, 2011 08:26 IST
Navneet Singh
Navneet Singh
Hindustan Times

With a year to the London Games, the preparation of Indian athletes is yet to begin in right earnest.

Sample this: Preeja Sreedharan, the country's top 10,000m woman distance runner, had a bronze medal-winning time of 33:15.55s in the just-concluded Asian Championships in Kobe, Japan.

This was two minutes slower than Shalane Flanagan's performance of 30:59.97s, which she clocked to win the US National Championship at Eugene, Oregon, in June.

Not just Shalane, there are hordes of Ethiopian and Kenyan runners who are capable of running faster than Preeja at the moment.
The story is no different in the other track and field events.

But ML Dogra is unfazed by the comparison. "We don't want Preeja to clock 30 minutes right now. We have our plans for the London Games," said the top Athletics Federation of India (AFI) official.

Going by the AFI's calculations, at least 20 athletes have a chance of achieving the qualification standards for London. Already, four have booked berths for the Games.

Among those who are chasing their London dreams are 800m runners, Ghamanda Ram and Tintu Luka. The duo came close to achieving the 'B' qualification mark in Kobe, but failed. However, the two will get more opportunities as they will compete in at least four events in Europe, beginning August 2.

Doping is passé
“The episode is in the past," was how Dogra summed up the positive cases of the top 400m women runners. "If a bunch of runners fail the dope test, it does not signal the end of athletics in the country." Pointing to India's performance in Kobe, he said, "The team won 12 medals, including gold."

Emphasising that the federation had zero tolerance towards doping, Dogra said the string of positive cases had disturbed the women's 4x400m relay line-up. The AFI has gone back to the drawing board to pick names for the event, but the timing of the second-string quarter-milers is unlikely to take them forward.

Going by the results at the recent Inter-State Athletic Meet, those short-listed for the camp (see box), are within the 56s bracket, barring K Mirdula, who clocked 55.58s. A national coach, who was associated with the 400m sprinters, does not fancy India's chances of making it to the top-16 within the stipulated time of July 2, 2012. "With an average time of 56 seconds or more, it's almost impossible to book a passage to the London Games," he pointed out.

In 2004, when the 4x400m relay team made it to the final of the Athens Olympics, the average time of the athletes was between 51.50 to 52.00s. Prior to Athens, during the domestic meet in Chennai, the individual time of the top-four runners --- Manjeet Kaur (51.05), Chitra K Soman (51.35), KM Beenamol (51.46) and Rajwinder Kaur (51.57) was impressive. "It helped us finish seventh in Athens," he said. "Given the depleted field now, the chances are very bleak."

Why shy?
For reasons best known to the AFI, almost all top athletes are shy of competing at the European circuit. Participating in continental meets is the way forward towards achieving competitive sharpness, and as of now only Ghamanda and Tintu are slated to take part in some non-priority events. Interestingly, their participation wasn't planned, but happened as a result of their performance in Kobe.

For the others, even if they participate in the World Championships, the international calendar will end in August. It will then mean a seven-month wait as India's new international calendar will commence in January/February. Dogra says only select athletes will get exposure. "It all depends on performance, and those on the right track will get to polish their skills," he said. The rest will cool their heels in India.

First Published: Jul 27, 2011 23:51 IST