CHENNAI: As hundreds of athletes started their rituals — warm-ups and training — a waft of sea breeze lowered the afternoon temperature to some kind of comfortability. The day temperature was hovering around 40 degrees celsius. In the opposite corners of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, two athletes were training. Both with an objective of improving their performances and altering the marks against that column PB (personal bests).
The Inter-state senior national athletics championships starting from Friday assume significance as athletes hoping to do an encore at the upcoming World Championships in Oregon would try and impress the Athletics Federation of India coaches and selectors. For those trying to get into the India team for the Commonwealth Games, this would act as a platform that has attracted a sprinkling of stars for the five-day event. Because of the heat during the day, and humidity in the evening, long and middle distance events have been slotted in the morning including 3000m steeplechase — before 9 AM — while marquee events like 400m and 100m are in the evening.
As evening settled down, Mohinder Singh Dhillon was walking languidly towards the throwing circles (there are two) with a bag in his hand that has that 16-pound iron ball. Trudging close to him was his ward Tajinder Pal Singh Toor with his bag hanging on his shoulder. His left biceps were taped and the scar on his left wrist keeps reminding him of the surgery he had undergone after the Olympics.
"No pain and I am fit," said Tajinder while showing his wrist. His coach takes out the ball and with Punjabi songs blaring from his music system, he starts practising. He has already qualified for the World Championships last year, but a good performance is what the coach and his ward are looking forward to. "We are looking at something more than 20m," said Mohinder Singh. Tajinder had a good training session in Turkey. "We had a very good session there. Since the weather too was quite comfortable we could train any time of the day. He has started throwing around 20.40m and we are hoping to do better before the worlds." Their final push would be for the Commonwealth Games.
In the other corner, young Priya Mohan was going through her training before the heats on Friday. Her coach, Arjun Ajay, is quietly watching each of her movements. Just back from a short stint in Europe, the two are getting into some kind of a rhythm before targeting the world standard here at the nationals. "It was not a very good trip as we struggled with the food," said coach Ajay. Paris is where the two really had a tough time adjusting. "At least we know what to expect when we go there next time (2024 Paris Olympics). There was a lot of pork and beef and she doesn't eat it. So her performance also dipped."
However, Ajay said the 19-year-old athlete is fine and would try and take a crack at the qualifying standard for the World Championships in Oregon. As for Commonwealth Games, she would skip it for the Junior World Championships. "She missed an individual medal last time but this time she should win," he said. Priya Mohan has managed her personal and season-best 52.37s in IGP in Thiruvananthapuram in March and is ranked 58 and the world qualifying standard is 51.35s. Her performance abroad has not gone as per plan. "Diet was an issue in France and later in Switzerland, we managed to get food to our liking. When we participated in the Junior Fed Cup, she improved 52.49s. So we are hoping to improve."
Long jump national record holder Murali Shreeshankar reached on Wednesday while the 400m stars in both men and women would be hoping to make a statement here as 750 athletes from 23 states and union territories will vie for honours. With Jeswin Aldrin in the fray, the rivalry between Shreeshankar would be rekindled once again.
As the evening wore down, the athletes remained as shadows moved through the dark. The lights were not on and in fact, the floodlights stayed off until late.