Home run for state juniors

Tamil Nadu athletes get ready for National meet at Coimbatore with expectations weighing heavily on them
Action from the Tamil Nadu State Athletics Championship at Krishnagiri last month
Action from the Tamil Nadu State Athletics Championship at Krishnagiri last month

Chennai

Tamil Nadu athletes have dominated the junior meets for many years now. But what may hurt the Tamil Nadu Athletics Association (TNAA) is the fact that their results in the junior category have not got translated to the senior level.
 In the context, the National Junior Athletic Championship to be held at Kovai next week will pose the same questions as the state continues to churn out promising athletes and the answers will be almost the same.
It is not long since TN produced an exceptional talent in Prem Kumar, the long jumper, who cleared eight metres five times before he turned 22 and won a medal at the World junior. But he has been out of action for a while with an ailment. 
“It is difficult to find committed athletes in Tamil Nadu,” says CK Valson, secretary of the Athletics Federation of India. Valson, who has seen the TN athletes grow for over a decade as a TNAA official, feels some of them achieve  a lot in their career by the time they come out of the juniors, get good placements and then their attitude changes.
“At present, the most promising talents in the junior level are Mohan Kumar, Dharun, Priyadarshini and Subha,” notes the AFI secretary, who works out of Chennai and New Delhi. “Mohan Kumar and Dharun represented India at the Olympics and Priyadarshini won a silver in the World School Games in triple jump,” explains Valson. 
In last year’s National junior meet at Ranchi, Kerala and Tamil Nadu  dominated the girls section, finishing first and second respectively. In the boys section dominated by northern states, Tamil Nadu finished fourth ahead of Kerala and in the overall standings, Tamil Nadu were third behind Kerala and Haryana.
A prominent IAAF certified coach MV Rajsekar, who runs the Universal School of Athletics in Chennai, feels the conditions are so good in the state in terms of encouragement but a lot more could be done. “More talents should be tapped now that there are sports hostels run by Sports Authority of Tamil Nadu (SDAT) in every district,” says Rajgopal, who groomed Priyadarshini to her current level in the last four years.
Though Tamil Nadu will miss Priyadarshini in the Kovai meet, Rajasekar is confident his wards Nithin (200 metres in under-18 boys), Giridharini (200 m under-16 girls) and Harshita (100m under-14 girls) are medal hopes in the upcoming National juniors. Unlike in many other states, Tamil Nadu has an admirable support system for athletes, says national selector Shiny Wilson. “The government has a scheme for promising athletes and out of the five selected for the Rs one crore scheme (for five years), two are athletes (Prem Kumar and Gayathri),” says Shiny, who is also the vice-president of TNAA.
Shiny has high hopes on the next big project by TNAA to set up a high-altitude training centre at Udhagamandalam. “A synthetic track is being laid in Ooty and results in middle and long-distance runs would improve dramatically when it comes up,” feels Shiny. 
The Chief Minister’s incentive is not just for the international athletes. Even at the lower levels (Nationals) the gold, silver, bronze get Rs one lakh, Rs 75000 and Rs 50000 awards. AFI secretary Valson commends the role played by clubs in promoting athletics in the state. “The big clubs are Prime Sports, Universal School of Athletics, Royal Athletics Club and Karlmax Club,” says Valson. These clubs will throw up many more talents in Kovai for sure.

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