By Sayan Mukherjee
New Delhi, Nov 4:
Current and former athletes have criticised the timing of the ongoing 54th National Open Athletics Championships here saying that holding such a meet at the very end of the season serves little purpose and could in fact be detrimental to the players’ interests, defeating the very purpose behind the championships.
The event culminates a gruelling season which saw India’s top track and field athletes participate in two major events — Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. The Nov 2-5 championships, being held at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here, got off to a depleted start as several top athletes withdrew due to injuries and fatigue.
Asian Games silver medallist Manju Bala Singh opted out of the women’s hammer throw event. National record holder race walker K.T. Irfan also pulled out citing a swollen ankle.
But the most shocking was Asiad silver medallist Khushbir Kaur quitting during the 20 km race walk Sunday. Khushbir had completed nearly half the race when her coach Alexander Artsybashev forced her to stop, concerned that she may get injured.
Most top athletes, working with public sector companies, made themselves available only for the sake of their employers. Several performed considerably below their best and admitted as much when asked about it, adding that they were not much concerned about their performance as it “meant little” in their scheme of things.
“After Asian Games I did not get much time to train. The schedule was really punishing. I trained for only two-three days to prepare for this competition. But I was confident of winning despite the lack of training,” M. Poovamma told IANS after winning the women’s 400m gold here.
The Asiad bronze medallist said that it is difficult to find motivation after two back-to-back mega events and revealed that she did not give it her best to prevent picking up an injury.
“Taking risk isn’t wise in these circumstances. Compared to other tracks, this track is not well maintained. Other facilities are also not good. I am not happy with the facilities provided,” said Poovamma.
“I turned up for my employers ONGC. Running this event doesn’t matter to me. I am not concerned with whatever time I register here. This was the last meet of a long season and I am glad that it got over,” the 24-year-old added. Her 4X400m relay teammates Mandeep Kaur and Priyanka Panwar, who claimed the Asiad gold, also skipped the event.
Legendary athlete P.T. Usha also echoed Poovamma’s sentiments, saying that the championships should have taken place in August before the Asian Games.
“This event should have been held before the two mega events. It would have proved to be a great warm-up event and given the athletes a lot of confidence. But hosting it now serves no purpose,” Usha said.
The ‘Payyoli Express’ added that the athletes had no motivation to participate. She also blasted the poor facilities and infrastructure for the event.
“Athletes are running this event for the sake of their employers. What is the point of running well in these championships now, after the season has ended? If your mind is willing to run and perform, then only you run fast and win,” Usha said.
Two-time Asian Games silver medallist Soma Biswas said that the dip in performances at the nationals occurs due to laxity among athletes. A gap is needed for them to recover and motivate themselves.
“After hitting peak form a certain amount of laxity does arise in athletes. Then it becomes difficult for them to perform at their optimum level. A little gap is required for motivation. Usually an extended gap helps the athletes to recover from big events. But this year that hasn’t been the case,” the Arjuna Awardee told IANS.
(Sayan Mukherjee can be contacted at [email protected])