THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Indian athletics roller coaster will start its new season with the 35th National Games as the track and field events commence at the University Stadium here on Monday.
A total of 841 athletes representing 28 teams will test their mettle in the five-day long meet that has 44 gold medals on offer
The athletes, who started arriving here since Saturday, assembled at the Chandrasekharan Nair Stadium and SAI-LNCPE Stadium on Sunday to give last-minute touches to their craft.
Ace long-distance runner Preeja Sreedharan, who is set to end her career after the Games appeared confident of a good show. "I hope that I can run better in front of the home crowd," she said.
However, the 10,000m gold and 5,000m silver medalist in the 2010 Guangzhou Games will have to live through the challenge of her statemate O P Jaisha and national campers Kavita Raut and Lalita Babar.
Other exciting competitions on the card are men's triple jump and long jump. Punjab's Arpinder Singh will be up against Kerala's Renjith Maheswary. Given the age and his lackluster performances in the last two seasons, the 29-year-old from Kerala is unlikely to partake in another National Games and would be itching to end his run with a pride-restoring win.
Another event worth watching would be women's 400m flat race. Though the start-list doesn't feature big names like MR Poovamma and Tintu Luka, who will only contest in 800m here, a gripping contest is expected between Haryana's Nirmala and local girls Anilda Thomas and Anu Mariam Jose. In the men's quarter-mile event, Services' Kunju Mohammed, who will be looking to defend his gold, will have to face a tough test from Tamil Nadu's Asian Games bronze-medalist Arokia Rajiv.
In the men's long jump, K Premkumar of Tamil Nadu will be eyeing a grand comeback. The youngster will have to thwart the challenges of a resurgent Ankit Sharma of Madhya Pradesh, who is also returning from an ankle injury.
However, in some events like women's high jump, it would be single-horse race. Leading high jumper Karnataka's Sahana Kumari would expect little resistance. Her major rival Mallika Mondal has been unimpressive in recent times.
Meanwhile, decks are clear for young Dutee Chand to return to competition. With verdict of her case in CAS likely to be given in March, Dutee said she wanted to perform well here. "I want to do well in 100m, 200m as well as in 4x400m relays. It can boost my confidence," she added.