Men’s relay team gets a safety net for Worlds Championships

The relays are not usually held at a Grand Prix but the AFI on Saturday decided to conduct the sixth leg in New Delhi on September 5.

The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) is providing an eleventh hour lifeline for the men’s relay team to qualify for the world championships and to guard against other countries leaping ahead in the rankings with the deadline fast approaching.

The sixth leg of the Indian Grand Prix is back on the calender and will include the men’s 4x400m relay to give the Indian team another chance to regain places in case they drop out of the top-16 in the world, the benchmark to qualify for the World Championship in Doha in September-October.

While the women’s team is currently placed at 14th according to the IAAF relay team rankings, the men’s team is precariously positioned at 16, the cut-off spot. The mixed relay 4×400 metre team is best placed among the three at No.13.

The relays are not usually held at a Grand Prix but the AFI on Saturday decided to conduct the sixth leg in New Delhi on September 5.

The GP will be held with just 24 hours left for the September 6 deadline for sending entries to the IAAF. The sixth leg was initially part of the AFI calender for 2019, but had been cancelled.

The addition of the GP to the calender means the elite 400m campers based in Jablonec in the Czech Republic will have to make a dash to New Delhi.

They had been in Spala, Poland, before going to Jablonec for an extended camp-and-competition phase but ironically, the results of the Delhi GP could decide whether they make the cut for the Worlds.

The men’s team is on the precipice of falling out of the top-16 because Colombia sprung a surprise and leapfrogged to No.14 earlier this month by clocking three minutes and 1.14 seconds. Botswana is 15th at 3:01.78 and the Indian team at 16th (3:01.85 at the Jakarta Asian Games).

“The team needs one good race to do proper baton exchange and that is why we have added the relay events to the Indian GP. There is always a concern that some other country could go ahead because the African Games are taking place and the European circuit is also on. One has to be prepared for all eventualities. It is safety net to ensure that our team qualifies. Every country wants to qualify so we need to put our best effort. The 40 m campers will come for the sixth leg of the Indian GP,” AFI president Adille Sumariwalla told The Indian Express on Sunday.

“An important thing is also that the coach wants the team to have one good run before the world championship.”

The AFI president also said that they were very few competitions in which the relay events are included and added that some events in Europe, where the elite campers are based, are ‘closed events’ in which it is difficult to get entries.

AFI deputy chief coach Radhakrishnan Nair confirmed that the athletes part of the 400m men’s squad will fly down from their foreign-training base to the Indian capital. There is also the possibility of the core of the 400m men’s squad based in Europe running in the 4x400m relays at the Inter-State Championships in Lucknow in the last week of August.