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Rio Olympics 2016: Doubts cloud the Olympic qualification of Nirmala Sheoran

The quarter-miler from Haryana registered a career best to qualify for Rio 2016 last week.

Nirmala Sheoran
The joy of an Olympic qualification has been marred by doubts raised over Nirmala’s performance

With India's largest ever contingent set to compete in the upcoming Rio Olympics, it suffices to say that excitement is high. The hopes of a reasonable medal tally by the cumulative contribution of the group is now more than it ever was. Last week, the Haryana quarter-miler Nirmala Sheoran was adjudged the best female athlete at the 56th National Inter-State Senior Athletics Championships after she clocked 51.48 seconds in the 400-meter race at Hyderabad. However, not all is well.

Although she made the final cut for the Rio Olympics with her score, doubts have been raised regarding her consistency and her sudden improvement in speed. Earlier Shearon's personal best was over two seconds slower when she registered a time of 53.94 seconds at Chennai in 2013. This huge gap has left the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) completely baffled.

AFI President Adille Sumariwalla, in conversation with Indian Express, said,“She comes as a spurt and then disappears. She again comes as spurt and then disappears. I have no idea why that keeps happening. Her inconsistency is a concern, yes. We have tested her. Although she is not regularly tested, but we have tested her now, after she clocked that timing.”

Also read: Rio Olympics 2016: The future of Indian athletics has arrived

Sheoran's qualification meant that the number of athletics in the Indian contingent would rise to 25, 13 females and 12 males.

When questioned on why Shearon was not regularly monitored during training sessions and before and after her event in Hyderabad, Sumariwalla claimed that she trained outside the athletics facility in Hyderabad which made it difficult for an AFI official to keep track of her whereabouts.

“I cannot monitor people who are outside the camps conducted by AFI. I have no way to do that. I am already monitoring more than 200 athletes. I cannot monitor more than that,” he said.

He further added that both the national anti-doping agency and WADA routinely kept tabs on top athletes of the country but conceded that it was impossible to do that for everybody. However, he had complete faith that none of the other athletes qualified for Rio would face any allegations regarding the use of performance enhancement drugs.

“I can’t tell you who is clean. We don’t plan (dope) tests; the National Anti-Doping Agency and World Anti-Doping Agency do that. All our athletes are on their watch list. Athletes like MV Poovamma and quarter-milers are tested more than 10 times. So I believe they should be fine,” he said.

Sumariwalla was also of the opinion that a democratic form of governance in India made it difficult for the AFI to control the athletes and make it mandatory for them to train under the organisation. “I wish this was China. Then I could have brought them in,” he ruefully said.

While nothing has been proved yet, these doubts (if true) will stand in the way of an Olympic appearance for Sheoran. Currently, the number of people representing India at Rio stands at 103 with interested viewers around the country claiming that this is the best chance India has had in the Olympics in a long time.

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