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Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019

Asian Championships: Tejaswin Shankar deserved support, not federation snub for Doha

By snubbing Shankar for not participating in the Federation Cup (March 15-18), the AFI is giving a signal that either high jump is not on their priority list, or Shankar is not one of their blue-eyed athletes.

other-sports Updated: Mar 22, 2019 19:46 IST
Navneet Singh
Navneet Singh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
File image of Indian athlete Tejaswin Shankar
File image of Indian athlete Tejaswin Shankar(Tejaswin Shankar/ Twitter)
         

There seems to be a clear bias in the way the national record holder in high jump Tejaswin Shankar --- a potential medal prospect for the Asian Championships in Doha next month --- has been kept out of the contingent by the Athletics Federation of India (AFI).

Last month, the lanky 20-year-old Delhi athlete, tipped 2.28 metres to clinch the Big 12 Conference title in Texas, US, where he is on a four-year scholarship, and cannot afford to break his training regimen midway to compete in the recently-concluded Federation Cup in Patiala.

The AFI guidelines for the Asian Championships state that if “none of the athletes achieves qualifying standard in a particular event, the selection panel may select the best athlete in that event if there are chances/probability of winning a medal”.

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By that yardstick, Shankar should be in the squad as he has bettered the AFI’s qualification mark of 2.25m in the Texas event and no other athlete could meet the standards.

Given Shankar’s current form, he stands a chance of winning a medal in Doha as his 2.28 in Texas is better than the bronze-medal performance of Syria’s Majededdin Ghazal (2.24 metres) at the 2017 Asian Championships in Bhubaneswar. Shankar’s personal best of 2.29, a national record, too was set just last year, which reinforces the fact that he is good for a medal at the continental level.

The only blemish --- or disappointment --- for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games fifth-place finisher, studying at the Kansas State University and winner of the 2018 NCAA title as a freshman, was that he missed the Jakarta Asian Games due to injury.

Recently, when the AFI president Adille Sumariwalla said Shankar wasn’t good for a podium finish at the Asian meet, it triggered a controversy and the federation boss quickly said he had been “misquoted”. But by snubbing Shankar for not participating in the Federation Cup (March 15-18), the AFI is giving a signal that either high jump is not on their priority list, or Shankar is not one of their blue-eyed athletes. 

This is not the first time a young talent has been discouraged. In 2006, Bengal heptathlete Sushmita Singha Roy’s performance was reportedly overlooked and JJ Shobha included in the Doha Asian Games-bound team.

Sushmita’s coach, Kuntal Roy, objected to fresh trials and urged the AFI to select athletes on the basis of their results in domestic competitions. The request was turned down. Shobha who finished third in major domestic competitions behind Soma Biswas and Sushmita, however, gave an outstanding performance (5861 points) in trials held at the JLN Stadium in Delhi to book an Asian Games berth, with Soma and Sushmita boycotting the trials.

Kerala’s Anu Raghavan’s (4x400m relay) decision to train under personal coach and defy the AFI’s order to train under controversial Ukrainian expert Yuri Ogorodnik in the national camp, saw her name being excluded from the 2016 Rio Olympics-bound squad. Ashwini Akkunji, whose performance since 2014 wasn’t encouraging, was selected despite Raghavan’s best time being 53.34 sec, compared to Akkunji’s 53.98. The

The same year, Raghavan’s name was ignored --- and Akkunji included --- for the SAF Games in Guwahati despite winning the 400m hurdles at the Kolkata Open, the selection event.

The other issue is that of mediocre athletes being groomed for major events. While Neeraj Chopra is rightly considered a strong contender for a podium finish in Tokyo, and the AFI believes that the 4x400m relay teams too have the potential, there are more than 40 runners, including 20 women, in the national camp getting regular international exposure. The 400m runners recently went to Turkey on an exposure trip for 80 days. But if the Federation Cup results are an indication, then not all seem to have benefitted from the advanced training.

Haryana’s 20-year-old Anjali Devi clocked an impressive 51.79 sec at the National Open meet in Bhubaneswar last year. Her time was the season’s third best, behind Hima Das (50.79) and Nirmala Sheroan (51.28). Devi, though, was out of contention in the Federation Cup in the semi-final state itself.

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Maharashtra’s Aishwarya Mishra’s only credential in 2018 was a 52.4 sec clocked in the inter-college meet in Mumbai but she was selected for the Turkey camp in November. Four months later, she wasn’t among the finalist in the Federation Cup. Both Devi and Mishra are in the Doha-bound relay team.

So much for AFI’s “we don’t want to carry passengers to Tokyo” policy.

First Published: Mar 22, 2019 19:44 IST

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