Underprepared Tamil Nadu athletes fret about inter-state performance

At a time when restrictions are easing and shops are gradually reopening, pole-vaulting coach R Milber finds it hard to comprehend the treatment being meted out to athletes.
The event serves as the final qualification opportunity for the Tokyo Olympics. (Representational Image)
The event serves as the final qualification opportunity for the Tokyo Olympics. (Representational Image)

CHENNAI: With just eight days to go for the National Inter-State Athletics Championships in Patiala, Tamil Nadu pole-vaulter P Rosy Meena — who won gold at the Federation Cup in Patiala in March with a mark of 3.9m — is facing a dilemma. She has had no training for the last two months and is wondering whether to make the train journey from Chennai to Patiala considering how unprepared she is.

"I am wondering whether to go. Without any training, I cannot put up a good performance in Patiala. I will probably end up going in the hope that I can do well only because it is a very important event. Getting government jobs and other rewards hinge on doing well in such events," the 24-year-old says.

With the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai still inaccessible for athletes, despite requests by the Tamil Nadu athletics federation, athletes like Meena are understandably fretting about how they will fare at the upcoming meet. The event serves as the final qualification opportunity for the Tokyo Olympics. While these athletes may not have a chance of qualifying for the Olympics, the fact that they are not able to get the right preparation for a national meet is bothering them.

Long-jumper R Swaminathan is another example. Along with the other jumpers, he returned home from the national camp in Patiala at the start of April. With Covid cases rising in Patiala back then in addition to the fact that they had no coach at the camp, the 25-year-old felt it would be better to train at the Nehru Stadium. While his training went smoothly for the first 10 days after returning, the onset of the second wave in Tamil Nadu hampered his plans thereafter.

"Once Covid cases started increasing in Patiala, only those who have either qualified for Olympics or are close to doing so stayed there. The jumpers felt it would be better to train in our respective cities since we did not have a coach in the camp. But after training here for a few days, I have not been able to do anything other than maintaining my fitness at home," he reveals.

Swaminathan's best jump till date is 7.78m - it helped him win gold at the 80th national inter-university athletics championship in January 2020 - but he feels that he won't be able to do any better than a jump in the region of 7.5m at the upcoming event.

"I will look to achieve a mark of 7.50m. That is all I can do given the lack of preparation. That will be a decent performance. A few corporation grounds have opened from Monday. I have just resumed some sort of training," says the 25-year-old.

At a time when restrictions are easing and shops are gradually reopening, pole-vaulting coach R Milber finds it hard to comprehend the treatment being meted out to athletes. The 38-year-old trains the likes of Rosy Meena and fellow pole-vaulter E Baranika in Tamil Nadu.

"Pole-vaulters need to be training for a period of six months to do well in a competition. With such little preparation, it is impossible to do well. Alcohol stores have reopened once again and there is so much crowding that you see. But athletes are always targeted and told to stop training. It is hard to understand why this is the case," Milber rues.

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