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Six fastest children get set for big leap

Author: Shivani Naik
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: February 11, 2013
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/six-fastest-children-get-set-for-big-leap/1072372/0

About 50 people — a pair of corporate executives, athletics officials, parents, coaches and participants — converged on the 100 m finish line, on a synthetic track at the KJ Somaiya Sports Complex on Sunday, each time a young sprinter made the dash from oblivion to the beginning of recognition. They were looking at India's quickest pairs of untrained heels, as the six winners raced past with impressive bursts of acceleration.

The champions, from six metro cities and four corners of the country, will head to Australia in end-April for a week's training at Griffith University with reputed coach Sharon Hannan as India's fastest boys and girls in the u-12, u-14 and u-16 categories, after the first-ever nationwide talent hunt for sprinters, dubbed 'Speedstar'.

The winners of the 100 metres no-frills speed-running will find also themselves on the radar of sprint queen PT Usha, who announced that she was scouting for raw pace in schools, to hone and mentor in coming years.

This was the first attempt by the Athletics Federation of India, along with organisers KOOH Sports, to scout for talent in the purest race in international sport. Limited to metros, and a few from Sonepat, the first season of Speedstar promised a model worthy of being expanded to the smaller towns and villages, from where many more could emerge.

The inaugural edition saw Najafgarh's Shabnam Shokeen (14.04 sec) as the u-12 champ. The youngest of three daughters of farmer Azad Sinh, Shabnam, till two years ago, would run behind a tractor barefoot and had built prodigious strength while tending and sowing fields in Daulatpura village.

"We have only a mud track there, so I enjoyed running on the synthetic surface here. My father watched a few races of the Commonwealth Games and he was determined to make me an athlete. People from neighbouring villages used to taunt me earlier, but now I can tell them it's earned me a trip to Australia," she said, happy that her treks to Gurgaon for hill and sand training had helped put a couple of yards distance between her and the second position.

The u-16 girls winner Anita Das (12.79 sec) — a tall, long-legged sprinter and long jumper — hails from Kolkata, where her father struggles to earn Rs 80 a day selling boiled chana in trains. She had to work for a medal at the junior nationals to earn a new decent pair of shoes from strict benefactors. "It'll be a big jump and I won't have to beg for shoes," she said with a proud grin.

Siddhi Hiray, who won the gold at the recent school nationals in u-14, has an encouraging father who is putting a chunk of his profits from business into personalised coaching for the 13-year-old from Abhinav Vidyalay, Pune. Siddhi's mother was track-side when she broke away for a stunning start-to-finish dash, clocking 13.01 seconds. "I was an athlete myself — 400 m and 800 m. But I want my daughter to be a sprinter, and we'll see her athletics career into the senior ranks," she said.

The only one of the five to possess a passport, Siddhi is more fortunate than the boys' champs — P Siva (u-14, Hyderabad; 11.72 sec) and M S Arun (u-16, Chennai; 11.14 sec) who have been staying away from their parents in sports hostels.

Siva, moved from Visakhapatnam to Secunderabad, and Arun's family moved from Ooty to Krishnagiri in Tamil Nadu, where they are dependent on state support for technique, kit and gear. "No passport, I don't know how to get it," said Arun, sounding a tad worried, before the organisers assured him that he no longer had to do all the running around alone.

Perhaps the most heart-warming story was that of Ankit Kumar, a deaf and dumb boy, whose ear-machine betrayed him on race day and he narrowly missed qualifying for the finals. He had won the Delhi leg in the general category. Coached by former international Sandeep Sarkaria, who he hounded on Facebook for tips after creating a profile and sending a 'friend request', Ankit lost out in the heats, but smiled and indicated to his coach wordlessly that he'd do better next year. He had clocked 11.4 seconds in the Delhi trials.

Ankit insists on running in the general category, and his presence ensured that a kerchief was dropped alongside the start-shotgun. "It's difficult though. While a normal runner will take 0.3 seconds to react, he will take 0.7 seconds. In deaf-only events, there's normally a light that blinks," said Sarkaria.

Ankit regularly discusses sprinting technique — especially the arm-running style and block starts — with his coach on Facebook and web chat, though the two have developed a relationship where even sign language isn't necessary.

"My goal is to get him into the Deaf Olympics this year, for he's easily amongst the best four-five in the world in his age group," said Sarkaria. Ankit's personal best is 11.3 seconds, he needs 10.9 seconds to make the grade.
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