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From AP to Athens

ABHIJIT SEN GUPTA looks at the Olympics medal possibilities among sportspersons from the State

AMONG THE sportspersons from Andhra Pradesh who will be taking part in the Olympics at Athens, the maximum expectation will rest on the sturdy shoulders of weightlifter Karnam Malleswari. However, the Sydney bronze medallist is aware that this time the going will be even tougher. Her layoff after the Sydney Olympics meant that she had a lot of catching up to do. She has been putting in a lot of hard work and according to reports, will be participating in the 63-kilo class. Reportedly she has chalked up a total of about of 235 kg in practice.

At Sydney in the 63 kg class it was Chen Xiaomin of China who had won the gold with a total of 242.5 kg. The present world record total stands in the name of another Chinese, Liu Xia, at 247.5 kg set in September 2003. Liu Xia is currently the world's top ranked lifter in this weight according to the IWF ranking list. But Xia will not be competing at Athens since rules permit only four lifters from each country and China has decided to concentrate on other classes. Second in the world rankings is Kirilova Gergana of Bulgaria who had won the European title earlier this year with a total of 227.5 kg and world number three Dominica Misterska of Poland had won the World Universities title with a total of 227.5 kg. Anna Batsiushka of Belarus (world record holder in snatch) and Natalia Skakun of Ukraine (world record holder in jerk) are other strong contenders.

Mental preparation

In shooting, the mercurial Gagan Narang has made a rapid rise in the sport. He too has put in a lot of hard work. But in the harsh world of international sports hard work is not the only criteria for getting medals. A lot will depend upon the performance on the crucial day and luck too could play a major role. In shooting where a miniscule error could result in a loss of valuable points, mental preparation is as important as the physical one. Intense and unflagging concentration and immense confidence in one's own abilities are important. Gagan has what it takes to become a top class shooter soon but whether he will be able to do it at Athens remains to be seen. Shooter Mansher Singh's family is also from Hyderabad although for business reasons he has to stay in Delhi.

In athletics, J.J. Shobha has shown steady improvement since the mid-Nineties when she first came into reckoning as a national level heptathlete. By chalking up 6211 points and qualifying for the Olympics, she has achieved one of the important landmarks of her career. At Athens the favourite will be world champion, Carolina Kluft of Sweden who is the only heptathlete other than Jackie Joyner Kersee to have crossed 7000 points. Jackie Joyner holds the world record at 7291 set at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. Leading contenders are defending Olympic champion Denise Lewis of Great Britain (personal best 6831 points), Eunice Barber of France (6861), Yelena Prokhorova of Russia (6765) and Natalya Sazanovich of Belarus.

The encouraging factor here is that Shobha's performances in at least three events are in the same bracket as that of the medal winners at the Sydney Olympics. Her long jump of 6.50 metres is better than gold medallist Denise Lewis's jump at Sydney (6.48) and a little behind silver medallist Yelena Prokhorova (6.59) while bronze medallist Natalya Sazanovich had the same distance exactly. It must be mentioned however that at Sydney, all the medallists jumped well below their personal best marks. In the 200 mts, Shobha has clocked 23.53 seconds, which is again in the medal winners bracket. And finally in the 800 mts also, Shobha's timing of 2m 16.40s is also as good as the Sydney medallists. But in the other four events Shobha is behind. Shobha's best of 6211 would have given her the seventh position at Sydney.

S. Geetha will be a member of the squad in the 4x400 relay. She has risen from humble beginnings to reach the international level. The Indian relay team has qualified for the Athens Olympics by taking the 13th rank out of the 16 top teams in the world.

Biggest hurdle

The IAAF took into consideration two of the best timings registered by each relay team and then working out the average to select the top 16.

India had an average timing of 3min 28.44 seconds clocked in two permit meets. But the gap between India and the first qualifier USA can be seen from the fact that USA's average time was 3min 23.22 seconds while second placed Russia had an average of 3min 23.39 seconds and third qualifier Jamaica had 3min 24.57seconds. So, for India a medal is almost out of the question. If the Indian team makes it into the final that itself would be a noteworthy feat. In rowing, 26-year-old, P.T. Paulose, an army personnel posted in Secunderabad has achieved a great distinction by qualifying for the Olympics in a sport, which does not get much encouragement in this country. But the Asian Games bronze medallist has tremendous fighting spirit. Although a medal may be out of his reach, his objective would be to give his best performance and thereby inspire other rowers to follow in his footsteps.

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