What's the story?
The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) has raised the qualification standards primarily for male athletes for this year's National Championships. This has been done keeping in mind the standards set by stars like Neeraj Chopra and Avinash Sable in their respective events.
In case you didn't know
The Indian athletics team has been performing admirably well for the last few years. The accomplishments of Neeraj Chopra, Hima Das, Dutee Chand and Avinash Sable - to name a few, have brought the world's attention on Indian athletics.
At the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games, the Indian athletes had managed to bag a total of 19 medals including 7 gold medals. With this tally, athletics ended up being the highest medal-winning sport for India at the Jakarta Asiad.
The Indian athletes have also managed to bag a total of 8 quota places for the Tokyo Olympics 2020. These quota places have been won by Neeraj Chopra (Men's Javelin Throw), Avinash Sable (Men's 3000 m Steeplechase), KT Irfan (Men's 20 km Walk), Bhawna Jat (Women's 20 km Walk) along with 4 quota places in the Mixed 4*400 m Relay event.
With still some time to go for the Olympic qualification period to end, more athletes are expected to meet the Olympic qualification standards and make the cut for the Olympics.
Also Checkout: the full Olympics 2020 Schedule.
Heart of the matter
Considering the improved standards in athletics, both at the national and international level, the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) has raised the qualification standards for some of the athletics events for the National Championships. These standards have primarily been revised for the men's events, with the cut-off raised for 5 men's events and only 1 women's event.
C.K. Valson, the AFI Secretary, recently explained that they were not going soft on the women and the standards were not revised for the women as they were already very high while the men's standards were revised as they were much lower compared to the expected standards.
"No...the women's standards are already high. So, we did not touch their standard at all."
“In the men's section, our standards were low earlier, so we wanted to raise them to get the best. We want people to challenge the standard.”
The qualification timings for the men's 3000 m steeplechase has been lowered by 20 seconds from the earlier time of 9 min 50 sec to 9 min 30 sec. Similarly, the qualification distance for the men's javelin throw has been increased by 3 metres from the earlier 65 m to 68 m.
Valson reiterated that the timings for the 3000 m steeplechase were not only revised because of the performances of Sable (who had set a national record of 8:21.37 in 2019) but also because the other athletes have been performing better as well.
“Yes, you can say it's a sort of a Sable effect in steeple chase. Though his standard is very high when compared to the others, the fact that we have raised it means more people are doing better than before"
He further explained that the entry standards have been fixed keeping the Olympic standards in mind.
“Suppose we have the Olympic standard as 9.9s (in the men's 100m), if we don't raise the entry standard to 11s for our nationals, it won't be okay. That is the concept we normally follow."
The men's 200 m, 400 m and 800 m are the other 3 men's events where the qualification standards have been raised while the women's discus throw is the only event for the women where the qualification standard has been raised from 35m earlier to 38m now.
Interestingly, the qualification standards were lowered for the men's shot put (from 15.50m earlier to 15m now) and men's discus throw (from 45.50m earlier to 45m now)
Valson explained that this was done to ensure that at least 15 athletes participate at the event as not many athletes had met the previous qualification standards.
“The reason is, we should have at least 18 to 20 athletes doing that event. If you notice, many would not have reached 15.50m in national competitions last year. We fix up a standard so that we can have at least 15 athletes, otherwise I will be running a competition with only 10 people"
“If you keep the standard very high and if very few qualify, it will look very awkward."
The raising of the qualification standards for the National Championships should spur the athletes to perform even better and raise the bar even higher starting with the Indian Grand Prix in Patiala on 20th March, the first event in the Indian domestic season.
It is heartening to see the Indian athletes performing better at the global stage. Although they have managed to reach the Asian standard now, there is a still long way to go for them to reach the World level apart from an odd exception like Neeraj Chopra.
Also See | India's medal tally in olympicsPublished 04 Mar 2020, 14:49 IST