India's much anticipated campaign at the World Relays 2019 in Yokohama, Japan ended in a disappointing manner on the first day itself. None of the three relay teams made it past the heats and hence none of the three were able to qualify for the IAAF World Championships to be in held in Doha later this year. The Athletics Federation of India has been focussing on the training of the 400m group of runners and a lot of resources have been put into it. The performances at Asian Games 2018 were encouraging but it has largely been downhillsince then and the performance in Yokohama will certain raise a question or two.
Indian women were the first in action and there was good news in store for the fans as Hima Das started contrary to expectations. Das had pulled out of the individual 400m at Asian Athletics Championship and there were doubts over her fitness. Das ran a 52.60 lap and India were at the second spot at the first baton exchange. A melee at the second baton exchange between Poovamma, Saritaben and the two Ukrainian runners meant India lost crucial time at the baton exchange. Ukraine was later disqualified as their runner seemed to have pushed Saritaben during the second baton exchange. India were upgraded to 4th in the heat but that helped little as India finished 17th among 20 countries in a season best of 3:31.93 and couldn't make it to the B finals as well.
Taking about the men, there were 18 teams in the start-list and and17 that competed as Bahamas pulled out before the start. Indian men had to avoid finishing last and be eligible for atleast the B finals but as things unfolded sans Rajiv Arokia in the Indian quartet, Indians finished a disappointing last among the 17 teams in a time of 3:06.05. The mixed relay saw India run without their top runners and the squad of Jithu Baby, Prachi, Sonia Baishya and Alex Anthony finished 15/16 with a time of 3:23.59. The selection of mixed relay quartet raised a lot of questions as India could have done better fielding the likes of Anas, Vismaya and Poovamma even though they had run earlier. Athletes from other nations most notably Kevin Borlee did double up.The World Relays presented India with a glorious chance to qualify for the World Championships with top 10 in men and women relays and top 12 in mixed relay at the World relays qualifying for the World Championships later in the year. The Indians will now have to jostle for the remaining 6 places (4 for mixed) which will be decided at the end qualification period by virtue of the ranking positions (which will be determined by the best performances in the qualification period). The qualification window runs from 7th March 2018 to 6th September 2019 and the best Indian performances in the men, women, and mixed relays at the moment stand at 3:01.85, 3:28.72 and 3:15.71 respectively. [table id=24 /]
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Other than missing out on the qualifications, the major worry in the downward trajectory of the performances of the relay teams. From Asian Games last year to Asian Athletics Championships to now World Relays, it has all gone downhill despite the federation putting in a lot of money and arranging long foreign exposure trips. The men's performance is of particular concern as the time of 3:06.05 clocked at World Relays is the second slowest among the five performances since 2018 starting. Disappointingly India finished behind China and Japan in terms of timings in mixed relays having finished ahead in both the Asian Games and Asian Athletics Championship. The baton exchange also has been under suspect and one can't forget the poor baton exchange in the mixed relay final between Vismaya and Arokia that potentially cost us the gold medal.The Federation believes the relay team has potential to challenge for the medals at World Championships and Olympics particularly the women relay team. The performance here at the World Relays hasn't reflected the same.The 400m group trained in Turkey after the Asian Games and then flew to Japan right after the Asian Athletics Championships and are now scheduled to travel to Poland. The performances though have been far from encouraging and what is also worrying is that none of the 400m runners barring Anjali Devi have qualified for the individual 400m event at World Championships. The track and field fans will surely be asking the federation a question or two in days to come and the usefulness of foreign exposure trips will also come under the scanner. One though would hope for improved performances in the rest of the season.