Poovamma, India’s newest quarter-miler

The doping scandal in mid-2011 that wiped out India's 4x400 women's relay team provided a window of opportunity to the second-string and junior quarter-milers to come through. Though the Indian team comprising the next generation of runners didn't reach anywhere near the London Olympics qualifying standards, the churning brought about by the dope-related bans resulted in the emergence of MR Poovamma, who won the women's 400m with a personal best of 52.75 seconds at the National Institute of Sports in Patiala.

Over the past two years the 22-year old has cut nearly two seconds off her 400m timing to emerge as a potential star. Last year, the Mangalore-based ONGC athlete clocked a personal best of 52.94s at the Asian Grand Prix in Bangkok. Though she faced little competition in the final 200 metres, Poovamma was able to prove that she was steadily improving by registering another personal best.

"I was hoping to get closer to the World Championship qualifying mark (52.35s) but I am happy about registering a personal best," said Poovamma, who had defended her Federation Cup title.

N Ramesh, who coaches the women quarter-milers, marked Poovamma as a special talent. "When I started training her two years ago, her best timing was 54.34s. The rate at which she is progressing makes her a future start. I would even say that she is as talented as Ashwini Akkunji," Ramesh said.

Incidentally, it was Ashwini, currently undergoing a ban for steroid violation, who was one of the first to congratulate Poovamma at the finish line. Anu Mariam Jose of Kerala finished second (53.88s), followed by her statemate Anju Thomas (55.14s).

Mayookha below-par

ONGCs' Mayookha Johnny started her season by claiming the long jump gold but it was courtesy a modest effort of 6.16 metres. Mayookha was participating in her first event after the London Games, and her coach Shyam Kumar said that he expected a much-improved performance at the National Inter-state Senior Athletics Championships to be held in Chennai from June 4.

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