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