Relay quartets fail to make World Championship cut
The Indian men’s, women’s and mixed 4x400m relay quartets fell way short of the Athletics Federation of India’s (AFI) projected timings in the World Relays, underway in the Japanese city of Yokohama on Saturday, both teams finishing 17th overall.
This was a golden opportunity to finish in the top-eight and automatically qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. India will now have to compete in continental meets and invitational championships, recognised by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), and hope they clock timings to come in the top-16 in the world within the qualification period—January 1, 2019 to June 29, 2020.
The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) too might host a few championships involving at least two international teams—to make the event counted as Olympic qualification—and hope the Indians give impressive performances. Before the 2016 Rio Olympics, the AFI had hosted the Indian Grand Prix in July and invited Sri Lanka and Maldives to make the event eligible for Olympic qualification.
The women’s team comprising Hima Das, MR Poovamma, Saritaben Gayakwad and VK Vismaya— running in that order—clocked 3:31.93 secs to finish fifth in the heat. The AFI had projected in December that the combination was capable of clocking 3:24 secs.
The men’s team comprising Kuhnu Muhammed, Jithu Baby, KS Jeevan and Muhammed Anas clocked 3:06.05 secs to finish sixth in the heat, nearly six seconds off the projected time of 3:00 secs. India suffered a setback as Rajiv Arokia, the quickest this season, pulled out due to illness.
As per the format, the top two teams in each of the three heats and the fastest two among the others got passage into Sunday’s final. The United States, Ukraine, Poland, Great Britain, Canada, Jamaica, Italy and Switzerland qualified for the final in the women’s category and sealed berths in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
On the eve of the competition, there was speculation over Das’ fitness. But chief coach Galina Bukharina fielded the sprinter from Assam instead of Prachi. Still, despite Das’ superb effort, the team could not figure in the top-10, which would have earned them the ticket to the World Championships in Doha in September. France finished ninth followed by the Netherlands.
Das gave a good start, clocking 52.40, but Poovamma timed 53.06 to fritter away the advantage. Saritaben Gayakwad looked rusty, running the third leg in 53.40 sec, while VK Vismaya, despite an effort of 52.35, failed to cover lost ground. The aggregate time of 3:31.93 secs put India in 18th spot in a 21-team competition.
Later in the day, the mixed 4x400m relay team of Jithu Baby, Sonia Baishya, Prachi and Antony Alex finished fifth in the heat and 15th overall with a time of 3:23.59.