India relay teams in Japan, chase early berth for Tokyo Olympics
The world’s best 400m runners will face-off in their first big test of the season when they compete at the World Relays on May 11-12 at Yokohama, Japan.
There is everything at stake here: the top eight finishers will automatically qualify for the 2020 Olympics while the top-10 will earn a place in the World Athletics Championships at Doha from September 27 to October 6.
Both the Indian men’s and women’s teams are in Japan for a 15-day training camp before the event.
The national 4x400 teams flew straight to Japan from Doha after participating in the Asian Championships that concluded last Wednesday. At the Asian Championships, both teams had finished second, but the men’s team was disqualified for a track infraction.
The women’s team’s chances of making the cut for the World Championships as well as the Olympics have been bolstered by the news of Hima Das having recovered from a back spasm she suffered at the Asian Championships, which resulted in her not running the finals. “Our main aim is to win Olympic berth as early as possible,” said deputy chief coach Radhakrishnan Nair.
Hima had back problems in March too, during the Federation Cup at Patiala — in fact, it has been a persistent setback for her in the last six months.
Hima’s absence at the Asian Championships relay hurt India’s prospect of winning the gold as the team, comprising Prachi (Hima’s replacement), MR Poovamma, Saritaben Gayakwad and VK Vismaya, clocked 3:32.21, nearly 3.5 secs slower than their silver-medal performance at the Jakarta Asian Games in 2018, where they clocked 3:28.72. At Doha, Bahrain won gold at 3:32.10.
Last year, Hima had peaked for the Asian Games, winning silver in the 400m with 50.79 — a national record — before a break from the sport dragged her performance down. Her best timing this year in 400m is 52.88. None of her teammates on the relay team have run below 52 seconds this season.
The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) president Adille Sumariwalla says, what is important at the moment is making the cut for Olympics. “If the athletes are able to stay healthy for the next few days and advance to the final (top eight), it will give us more time to prepare for 2020,” he says.
The men face a stiffer battle. One of the key members of the team, 400m hurdles specialist Dharun Ayyasamy, is injured.
Mohammed Anas, the 400m national record holder, is in the team, but yet to recover from a foot injury sustained in January.
The one positive sign is Rajiv Arokia’s individual 400m time of 45.37 secs at Doha, where he placed fourth.
In 2018, the team of Kunhu Muhammed, Ayyasamy, Anas and Rajiv Arokia had clocked 3:01.85 secs for silver at the Asian Games.
At Doha, with KS Jeevan replacing Ayyasamy, they clocked almost two seconds slower.