Ranchi, IndiaWith athletes in most part of the world confined to indoor competitions, India celebrated its 34th National Games at high altitude in Ranchi. The highlights of the six day athletics competition, which concluded on Monday (21) night, were double victories by distance runner Kavita Raut and jumper Mayookha Johny.
The state-of-the-art Birsa Munda Stadium revealed a grand look with its brand new synthetic track. Athletes (415 men and 240 women) from as many as 28 states besides the team from the Indian armed forces took part in the athletics competition.
Some of India's the top stars skipped the Games due to off-season. However many others, including medalists from last year’s Commonwealth and Asian Games, participated here on behalf of their respective teams.
Although the low key competition saw no national marks, the organizers and fans had the satisfaction of witnessing 12 meet marks and a couple of national junior bests.
Two long distance runners, Preeja Sreedharan and Kavita Raut, especially caught the eyes of everyone who turned to watch the proceedings here. Sreedharan was fresh from her gold medal in the women’s 10,000m at the quadrangular Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, last November where Raut secured the silver.
The duo, training partners and very good friends off the track, however put on a fierce battle when the competitions started on 16 February. With cash incentives for winning medals announced by each state unit, Sreedharan was expected to take top spot in both races. But Raut had a different idea in mind as she outclassed her compatriot in the longer distance on the opening day. A surprised Sreedharan tried to make amends in the 5000m, conducted on the final day, but had to gave up at the last minute when Raut put the pressure on her in the last 200m to finish.
Raut not only won the distance double but also obliterated the 12-year-old Games records which stood in the name of Sunita Rani since 1999 in both events with her timings of 15:54.26 and 34:28.26. Sreedharan also bettered the previous mark clocking 15:54.98 and 34:29.79.
Mayookha Johny gave Kerala two gold medals to erase the disappointment she had last year for not winning a medal in the multi-sport games in New Delhi and Guangzhou. Her winning mark in the Long Jump was a modest 6.26m. But she had the satisfaction of pushing her state-mate and national record holder M.A. Prajusha to silver medal in Triple Jump by 11 cm (13.31m to 13.20m).
Surprises galore on the infield
There were quite a few surprises on both the track and in the infield. A couple of athletes defended their title from the last edition of the Games in Guwahati. But some top-rung athletes failed to accomplish their desired goals. The most shocking example was the defeat of Asian Games victor and 2007 World championship semi-finalist Joseph Abraham in the 400m Hurdles.
Sunday (20), the penultimate day for athletics, saw a good turn out of people in the stands in spite of the distance of sports complex from the main city. Witnessing a major event for the first time in their lives their cheers went up when Indian Cricket team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, a native of Ranchi, made a surprise arrival at the stadium to encourage the competitors. Having won his inaugural World Cup encounter with Bangladesh just a day earlier, he made it to his native city on a chartered flight from Dhaka to keep his promise to the organizers.
Just prior to the arrival of Dhoni, another surprise came from the track when Punjab’s Kuldev Singh pushed Joseph Abraham to second place in the 400m hurdles. Running in the fifth lane, Joseph had a jerk at the start but quickly moved ahead when the race reached half-way. When the duo approached the home-straight Kuldev increased his tempo. Still in the lead, Abraham slowed a bit after clearing the final barrier. Kuldev took advantage of it and rushed towards the finish to secure the gold with a new meet mark of 50.31. An elated Singh later received his medal from Dhoni and it was a day to remember throughout his life.
On the infield, another Punjab athlete, Arprinder Singh, delivered a surprise win in the Triple Jump. Arpinder was a silver medallist at the last Asian junior championship at Hanoi, Vietnam. He went on to set a national junior best and Games record 16.62m with the victory. National record-holder and former Asian champion Renjith Maheswary finished a disappointing third, missing the silver medal by just 1 cm (16.09m to 16.10m) to Amarjeet Singh.
Same was the case with Kashinath Naik, the Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, in the men’s Javelin Throw in which Delhi boy Vipin Kasana rewrote the meet mark with a 77.22m throw.
Kerala state took the overall title with nine gold, 10 silver and eight bronze medals. Team Kerala also got the top spot in women’s division (6-7-2) while Services men had the honour in 7-1-5.
Ram. Murali Krishnan for the IAAF
100m (17) [0.9]: 1. Sameer Mon (Ser) 10.55, 2. Abdul Najeeb Qureshi (AP) 10.62, 3. Sujith Kuttan (Ker) 10.65;
200m (21) [-0.7]: 1. Nitin Kumar (Ser) 21.74, 2. M. Manikanda Raj (AP) 21.74, 3. Abdul Najeeb Qureshi (AP) 21.75; (Qureshi posted Games Record 21.16 in semi-finals)