Praveen to lead strong 400 field

Top women runners to miss Open Nationals

At least from the point of view of participation, the Open Nationals promise a slight improvement upon the Federation Cup, with a clutch of champions lining up across the field here. Earning points for their employers carries extra merit at this competition and that keenness may well lead to improved performances as well.

The Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games are the big events of the season. A clutch of Indian and Asian Grand Prix meets pave the road to those competitions for Indian athletics’ chosen ones, who have been at work in the national camps with these very meets in focus. The next four days will reveal at what stage their preparations are.

At Ranchi, quartermilers Praveen Kumar and Sini Jose were among the few who enhanced their reputations. Haryana’s Praveen clocked an impressive 46.87 seconds to win the men’s 400M while Sini struck a double, with a career-best 53.01 seconds in the women’s 400 en route to a double.

Praveen’s presence will add spice to the event, and with Bibin Mathew and Shakeh Mortaja expected to line up, the men’s 400 could well be the event to watch out for. The same, unfortunately, can’t be said about the women’s 400 with the Athletics Federation of India deciding to send its top runners – including Sini, Manjeet Kaur, Mandeep Kaur, Chitra K Soman and M R Poovamma – to Ukraine for a training stint.

The focus in the women’s events, as such, will be on PT Usha’s trainee Tintu Luka.
Tintu, who skipped Ranchi because of exams, has a big season in front, having clocked the second quickest time by an Asian – 2:01.92 – in the 800M last year. She is expected to go for a double, with the 400M scheduled after the two-lap race.

Kavita Raut and Preeja Sreedharan, winners of the 5,000 and 10,000 respectively in Ranchi, will skip the shorter distance and be in action only on the final day, when the 25-lap race is scheduled.

Men’s 400M hurdler Joseph Abraham, who won gold in 51.11 at Ranchi, is another looking to improve. Abraham has altered his striding pattern after being pulled up for making infringements time and again, and the Asian silver medallist said he was ready to go quicker. “It takes some time to adjust to the new pattern but I hope to better my Ranchi time,” said Abraham.

Among those missing will be middle-distance runner Chatholi Hamza and long-distance ace Surendra Singh, both recovering from stress fractures. Sunil Kumar cashed in on Surendra’s absence to win a 5000-10000 double in Ranchi and he gets another opportunity to shine in sweltering Kochi.

The weather, indeed, could be a source of bother for the competitors looking to raise the bar over the next few days, with day-time temperature touching 35 degrees Celsius and humidity at a very high level. “This is nothing compared to Ranchi,” said an athlete, trying to take it in his stride. “It is much the same anywhere else in the country. Do we have any other option?”

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