One last tilt at glory for athletes as Open Nationals begin today

With the athletics season winding to a close world over, the main point of interest at the the 53rd Open National Athletics Championships, beginning here on Saturday, is the battle for team championships apart from the return of Ashwini Akkunji from a doping ban.

Indian Railways, ONGC and Services will be looking to corner the team honours and the athletes, though at the fag end of the season, will be keen to give their best to their employers.

Ashwini, who endured a two-year doping ban, has not run a competitive race after completing the suspension period in July. She was part of the Indian relay team at the World Championships in Moscow but did not compete there. With her team Karnataka finally making it here after an unsavoury row back home, the 400M runner gets a chance to show where she stands at the moment in terms of competitive form.

M R Poovamma, in terrific form this season, will be the favourite in the event and their clash should be of interest to the fans at the Birsa Munda Stadium.

Long jumper Kumarvel Premkumar, who leapt beyond the national mark last month, will be among those trying to make an impact here. Premkumar leapt to 8.09 metres in the Inter-Railway meet in New Delhi but with no dope test in place there, his record is still awaiting ratification.

Tintu Luka, P T Usha’s trainee, is among the other leading athletes in fray, with the 800M runner hoping to close her season well. Renjith Maheswary, whose name is embroiled in a controversy over the Arjuna awards, has been entered by his team but it remains to be seen whether he will compete here.

Indian Railways won the women’s title and also the overall overall championships last year in Chennai while Services team are the defending champions in the men’s section.

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