India's next speed demons

It's the most glamorous event of track and field and the showpiece at Olympics. Usain Bolt continues to be its rightful poster-boy. The 100 metre sprint is also set to be the most encouraging news emerging from Indian athletics, a rare bright spot amidst the wretched string of headlines that Indian track and field has garnered over the last few seasons. Kids Out Of Homes - KOOH - a private initiative will run a speed hunt to pick the fastest 100m dashers in u-12, 14 and 16 categories through a nation-wide competition 'Speedstar' that will scout for talent across 11 cities from January 5, 2013. A total of 18,000 school children from 600 schools are expected to turn out for the trials, where the organisers hope to locate raw speed in youngsters.

Six winners - 3 girls and 3 boys in each of the categories - will then head to Australia where they wil spend a week's time trained by Sharon Hannan, coach to Olympic gold medallist hurdler Sally Pearson at her academy Sports Credentials. They'll be hosted by the Griffith University.

While School Games and sub-junior athletics meets have served as competitive avenues for kids in that age-group, a talent hunt for untrained runners is also expected to tap into exuberance of young runners, first-timers who will be catapulted into stardom since the talent-hunt gets beamed into homes via television with the finale on February 10, 2013. A rural equivalent of Speedstar will be conducted in Sonepat, Haryana. More importantly, KOOH have agreed to fund the Inter-District meet that brings together 250 districts across India and has served as a scouting ground for all of athletics' events. While cricket has had its fair share of pace-hunts that yielded a decent crop of domestic bowlers, this is perhaps the first initiative in athletics on a national-basis with all the glamour trimmings and could well bring some glitz to a sport that has never produced world-beaters. However one of the better-known names from the country - a running legend in fact - is PT Usha, who the organisers have roped in as a brand ambassador. She also brings in the insights and lends direction. "I've been running an academy for 12 years, and have been to numerous scouting events. Raw speed in the base for every other event in athletics," she says, explaining why the 100-dash is the best event to test out talent despite India's core strengths being in the mid to long distance events. "Whether it's long jump that needs explosive power or throws that demand speed-training, pace is crucial to all events, and in all my touring of the country, I've realised that we can do wonders if we find raw speed to work with."

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