Three track and field athletes, including veteran triple jumper Renjith Maheswary, today booked Rio Olympics berths with national record breaking performances in the 4th Indian Grand Prix.
Maheswary and Dharambir Singh (200m) shattered national records while Jinson Johnson ran the second fastest ever 800m race by an Indian to better Rio qualification marks on a dramatic day at Sree Kanteerava Stadium.
27-year-old Haryana lad Dharambir clocked 20.45 secs that not only bettered the Rio qualification mark of 20.50 secs but also improved his own national mark of 20.66 secs set at the Asian Championships in China last year.
Dharambir will be the first Indian to run in an Olympics 200m race after 36 years. The last Indian to do so in an Olympics was Tamil Nadu’s Perumal Subramaniam in 1980 Games.
The men’s and women’s 4x400m relay teams are also certain to make the Rio cut as they both stood at the 13th spot after the end of European Championships in Amsterdam last night. The top 16 relay teams qualify for Rio Olympics and today is the deadline for Rio Games qualification for athletics events.
International Association of Athletics Federations is expected to release a list of all qualified relay teams for Rio Olympics tomorrow.
With three more track and field making the Rio cut today, the Indian track and field contingent will swell to 36 while the total number of Indian sportspersons for Rio Olympics will go up to 117.
It was a do-or-die for 30-year-old Kerala athlete Maheswary who was often criticised for landing with ‘no marks’ in two major events—World Championships in 2011 and 2012 Olympics—but today he leaped to glory with a national record of 17.30m while also bettering Rio qualification mark of 16.85m. The earlier national record was in the name of Arpinder Singh (17.17m) set in 2014.
Maheswary, who will be participating in his third straight Olympic Games after 2008 and 2012, has been trying to qualify for Rio since last year. However, each time he was missing the mark narrowly. His last best jump of 16.98m was achieved in Chennai three years ago.
Today, his third round jump of 16.93m did the trick and having achieved the qualification, Maheswary made a big leap of 17.30m that not only regained his national record back but also placed him third in the current world rankings behind Americans Christian Taylor (17.76) and Will Claye (17.65).
“I am happy with weather conditions and the favourable track here which helped him qualify for Rio. The weather was not congenial in Hyderabad (National Inter-State last month). I tried to qualify in Thailand but fouled a couple of jumps. The runway here is good and that helped me to accomplish my dream of making it to Rio,” Maheswary said after the event.
Ranjith said he may go to Thailand for training for three to four weeks before flying to Rio.
Half-miler Johnson of Kerala virtually ran a ‘solo race’ to clock m1:45.98 secs and better the Rio qualifying norm of 1:46.00 in men’s 800m. He had missed the Rio mark in the National Inter-State in Hyderabad 10 days ago by a mere 0.43 seconds.
25-year-old Johnson’s time was the second best ever by an Indian at this distance after legendary Sriram Singh’s marvelous 1:45.77 effort which placed him at seventh in the Montreal Olympics fourty years ago. Sriram’s was the oldest ‘living’ national record.
“I have been waiting for this moment. The weather and track were good today that helped me to achieve the target,” a delighted Johnson said after the race.
Meanwhile, fast improving woman long jumper V Neena leaped 6.66m on her second round today to be just 4cm short of the Olympic qualification mark. In less than two weeks, Neena raised her personal best by 21 cm.
Having started with a win in the National Inter-State in Hyderabad with 6.45m, Neena went on to grab the gold at Thai Open with a 1 cm improvement. Yesterday, she clinched the gold in the 3rd Indian Grand Prix here with a wind-aided 6.57m.
Another athlete who caught the eye today was javelin thrower Devender Singh, who recorded a personal best 80.21m to win the event. His previous best 79.65m was achieved while winning the Federation Cup at Mangaluru last year. The Rio mark in this event stands at 83m.
In a similar fashion, woman javelin thrower Annu Rani delivered 59.20m against the Rio mark of 62m to win the gold.
As expected Arokia Rajiv (46.24 secs) and M R Poovamma (52.85s) took the top spots in men’s and women’s 400m races respectively to end their Rio qualification efforts in disappointment. They are, however, expected to be in the men’s and women’s 4x400m relay teams in Rio.
Regarding the men’s and women’s 4x400m relay teams, Karnataka Athletics Association Secretary Chandrashekar Rai said that their Rio qualification is more or less confirmed.
“I was awake till 2 am this morning to confirm the qualification of India’s relay teams,” he said, referring to the results of the European Championships in Amsterdam.