Gen-Next eager to impress

Holders Kerala aim to continue good show

Gen-Next eager to impress

India’s best young talent in track and field will take the next step forward when the 29th Junior National Championships begin on a far-from-perfect track of the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Tuesday.

It has been a busy late season for the juniors, with the zonal meets, the inter-zonal championships and the South Asian meet keeping them busy. A few performers of note surfaced at these meets and their progress will be watched with keen interest over the next five days which will also offer a chance for new talent to break through.

Quality has been sorely lacking at the top level in Indian athletics, with various controversies and scandals rocking the boat periodically to put the sport in bad light. The young generation, as such, will have an additional responsibility as they try to hit the front here.

When it comes to young talent, Kerala have been the dominant force, winning the overall title 16 times over the last 17 years. Haryana’s win in 2011 was an aberration, with the southern state regaining the crown at Lucknow last year. Tamil Nadu and Haryana are expected to be the main rivals for Kerala here, with the former especially making a strong surge this season.

Tamil Nadu edged Kerala for the Inter-Zonal title at Kochi in September and will hope to be a force here as well, even though their sprint star Augustine Yesudas will be missing this meet. TN’s sprint charge will be spearheaded by Archana Suseentran, a double winner at the South Asian meet in Ranchi last month.

In a Kerala squad brimming with talent, 800M runner Jessy Joseph (under-20) and middle distance runner Chitra P U (under-18) are the prominent names. Jessy, who has already qualified for the World Junior meet next year, has a personal best of 2:06.82, timed at the Open Nationals this year. “I am in good form and hope to run close to that time,” said the P T Usha-trainee.

Chitra, who won the 3000M gold at the Asian Schools Meet in Malaysia earlier in the season, will be competing in the 1500M here. High jumpers Gayatri Sivakumar — who set a national mark of 1.59 in the under-14 category this year — and K S Ananthu are among the others to watch out for in the Kerala ranks.

For hosts Karnataka, making a mark on the medals table will be a hard task in most of the sections. Meghana Shetty in the U-20 100M hurdles looks a good prospect and the South Asian junior champion said she was confident of doing well.

“I am back in form, I should do well here,” said Meghana, who had lost to Tamil Nadu’s Deepika in the Inter-Zonals but beat the same girl in the Ranchi meet. Jagadeesh Chandra, who won the inter-zonal gold in the 400M hurdles in the Under-20 section, is another Karnataka gold medal hopeful while high jumper S Harshith, a certain medal prospect, strained his hamstring just after the VTU meet, hurting his chances here. Harshith had set the under-18 mark of 2.17M at Ranchi two years ago.

Karnataka, however, can look forward to a success story in the under-14 girls section, where Toommy Vaishnavi has been a consistent performer while S Lokesh too can be expected to make a mark in the boys section. Meanwhile, hectic preparations were on at the stadium on the eve of the meet even as athletes hurried through their age verification procedures. Patch-up work had been done on the track while mowers were busy trimming the grass in the middle.

National Anti-Doping Agency’s team to conduct the dope tests was expected to land on Tuesday night. A tough five days it is going to be, for them as well as the athletes.

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