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Rio Olympics 2016: How Russia's ban can help Indian women's relay team qualify

Only the top 16 national teams will make the cut - India currently ranks 15th in the world.

A jubilant Indian team celebrates the Gold medal win in the Women's 4x400m Relay at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon
 

The Indian 4x400m Women’s relay team outshone their counterparts from Hungary, Czech Republic and the host nation Slovakia to clinch the gold medal at the PTS Athletics Grand Prix held at Samorin during the weekend. Chasing a spot in this year’s Olympics at Rio, the Indian unit, composed of runners Jauna Murmu, Ashwini Akkunji, Anilda Thomas and M R Poovamma clocked an impressive 3:31.39 which proved enough to fetch them the top spot at the Slovak meet.

However, the Olympic berth is one bounty that is yet to arrive in the Indians' bag for this particular event. With only sixteen spots up for grabs, the first eight placeholders were already decided in May last year at the 2015 IAAF World Relays held in Nassau, Bahamas where the United States' team pipped Jamaica and Great Britain to claim the title. Other teams to earn direct entry into Rio from the Bahamas were France, Poland, Canada, Australia and Brazil.

For the remaining eight Olympic quotas, as per IAAF regulations, each competing country’s average timing calculated from its two best performances during the window between 1st January 2015 and 11th July 2016 (which marks the cutoff date before the final rankings are released on 12th July) will be taken into account. That brings us to India’s chances which have just been strengthened by their superior show at Samorin catapulting them right to the 15th position in the current standings.

Jisna Mathew, Tintu Lukka, Debashree Majumdar and M. R. Poovamma had propelled the Indian team to a 3:20.08s finish at the Beijing World Athletics Championships last August. With Saturday’s timing, India’s aggregate now stands at 3:30.24s, fractionally ahead of Japan’s 3:30.85s and 17th placed Germany’s 3:30.93s.

Also read: Know your Indian Olympian: Tintu Luka

In November 2015, the All-Russia Athletic Federation got provisionally suspended from participating in any international competition following a massive ‘state-sponsored doping’ scandal brought to the forefront. Less than two months left for Rio 2016, the Russian Federation eagerly awaits IAAF’s 17th June final verdict on whether to keep all their athletes out of this year’s Summer Games.

As things stand, the Russian women’s team will not feature in the 4x400m relay at the Rio Games – but they did clock 3:24.29s in their two best attempts prior to the imposition of their ban. What the situation, in effect, holds for India is that a Russian return to the 10th place will push them to 16th. On top of that, Germany has ample chances to break into the top sixteen within the next month – together threatening India’s top-16 rank and in turn a coveted Olympic berth.

A little over a month still to go for the IAAF’s decider listings to be announced, plus a host of competitions lined up for each national team to improve their average time, India’s task is far from complete.

For the sake of a ‘cleaner’ Games, as also for a smoother ride to Rio for the Indian women’s 4x400m relay team – it is, therefore, preferred that Russia’s women’s relay brigade do not find their way to the 2016 edition of the Summer Olympics. For now, our women should be eyeing their next race at Turkey’s Erzurum scheduled to take place over the coming weekend. A quicker finish could see India surpass Romania, Bahamas and even Cuba, who now sit at a comfortable 12th with a timing of 3:29.54s – definitely not beyond our girls’ reach. 

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