Gold, but not enough glitter

Mr Poovamma's 400m title sweep in the three legs of the Asian Grand Prix reflects her consistency. At 23, coaches see her as the lead runner around whom they can rebuild a formidable 4x400 relay squad that can match the timings clocked by the famous quartets of past who won gold medals at Commonwealth and Asian Games.

Almost two years after the golden girls Ashwini Akkunji, Mandeep Kaur and Sini Jose being among them were banned for steroid use, Poovamma, finally, brings good news. India's long-standing athletics strong hold, women's relay, certainly has a new star.

But celebrations don't need to be over-the-top. Though, Poovamma does hold potential in her pet event, the 400 metres, she still has a long way to go. She registered a sub-53 for the first time last May and lowered it to 52.75 at the Federation Cup last month. These readings prove that the Mysore girl can't yet be compared to other illustrious middle-distance runners from the past and present.

Manjit Kaur, currently retired, and KM Beenamol, both part of the quartet that set the 4x400 relay national record at the Athens Olympics, were much faster. While Manjit set the national record of 51.05 in 2004 and that still stands, Beenamol's best was 51.81.

To put things in perspective, PT Usha's finest one-lap timing was 51.61 Poovamma's personal best is better than Akkunji's fastest timing of 52.82 but the latter participates in the flat sprint only as a build-up for her pet race, the 400 metres hurdles.

Another promising middle distance runner on the horizon is Anu Mariam Jose, who finished third in the final leg of the Asian Grand Prix.

But her personal best of 55.08, logged six years ago, indicates India will have to fall back on the likes of Mandeep, Akkunji and Sini Jose, once their bans end in two months time, in search of relay glory.

... contd.

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