Bengaluru: Indian men's and women's 4x400m relay race teams on Sunday virtually qualified for Rio Olympics after clocking impressive timings at the 3rd Indian Grand Prix athletics event here today.
The men's 4x400m relay quartet of Kunhu Muhammed, Muhammed Anas, Ayyasamy Dharun and Arokia Rajiv (running as India A) smashed the national record by finishing the race with a timing of 3:00.91secs at Sree Kanteerava Stadium here.
The quartet clipped more than one second from their four-week old earlier national record of 3:02.17secs which they clocked at Erzurum, Turkey.
The men's 4x400m relay team today leaped to 13th spot in the current world rankings from last night's 18th. The top 16 countries in the world at the deadline of July 11 will qualify for Rio Olympics.
The women's 4x400m relay quartet of Nirmala Sheoran, Tintu Luka, M R Poovamma and Anilda Thomas (running as India A) also made tremendous improvement in their timing, clocking 3:27.88secs -- the fourth best time ever -- to also virtually qualify for Rio Olympics.
The women's 4x400m relay team, which yesterday slipped to 14th spot due to the ongoing European championships in Amsterdam, today bounced back to its original 12th place after this performance.
Athletics Federation of India Secretary C K Valson said that both the men's and women's 4x400m relay teams are certain to qualify for Rio Olympics.
"The women's and men's 4x400m relay team have virtually qualified for Rio Olympics. The women's and men's relay teams, are now placed 12th and 13th position," Valson told PTI here.
To make the event eligible for Olympic qualification, athletes from Sri Lanka and Maldives have been invited to take part in the relay races. At least, two international teams are required to make the event counted for Olympic qualification.
With the addition of the men's and women's 4x400m relay teams, the Indian track and field contingent is likely to swell to 33 as 24 have already qualified for the Rio Games.
Muhammad Anas (men's 400m) and Nirmala Sheoran (women's 400m) and Tintu Luka (women's 800m) have already qualified for the Olympics in their individual events and since they are expected to be in the relay teams, another nine will be part of the two relay squads of six each.
This will take the total number of Indian sportspersons for Rio Olympics to 114 as 105 have already qualified.
Today's results meant that Athletics Federation of India's idea to provide another chance to its athletes with Olympic ambitions paid off well. The 3rd and 4th (to be held tomorrow) Indian Grand Prix events were hurriedly decided to be held here with this idea.
Mohammad Kunhi, the men's 4x400m relay team coach, said his boys did really good to virtually qualify for Rio.
"I had the target of 3:01.31s, but the boys did extremely well to clock 3:00.91s. I am very happy that the boys will make it to Rio Olympics because right now we are placed 13th, which makes us a strong contender for qualifying. Only a miracle performance by other countries' athletes trying to qualify can better our timing and position," Kunhi said.
Asked what preparation went into the sterling performance put up by the boys, Kunhi said their participation in international meets in Poland, Turkey and France had given them good exposure, which helped them to achieve this feat.
On whether the team stands a good chance of winning a medal in Rio, Kunhi said, "If my boys are able to clock 2.58.57s, we stand good chance to win a medal. I will work on the aspects of speed endurance."
Asked about other competitions in the run up to the Rio Olympics, Kunhi said he would take his boys to Columbia for training as the climate there is similar to Rio.
In other events of the day, Railways' V Neena, who has been dominating the long jump scene in the current season, was once again on the spotlight as she produced a wind-aided 6.57m (+2.3 m/s) to win the gold.
Neena, the National Inter-state Championships winner with 6.45m, had also clinched the gold in Thailand Open with another personal best 6.46m less than a week ago.
The men's long jump event witnessed keen contest between Inter-state victor Yugant Shekhar Singh and Muhammed Anees.
Anees opened with 7.78m and Shekhar responded by improving his personal best to 7.76m in the fourth round. Both the jumpers had an identical 7.80m in the fifth round.
However, Anees was adjudged the winner with his better series of jumps at the end and hence avenged his defeat at the National Inter-state Championships.
Fresh from his Inter-State victory, Amit Kumar (Services) once again toppled Rajinder Singh (75.40m) and Vipin Kasana (73.85m) in men's javelin throw with 76.25m.
In other events, Rio qualifier Inderjeet Singh (Oil India) was an easy winner in men's shot put as he tossed the iron ball to 19.85m. That effort was more than a metre ahead of second placed Tejinder Pal Toor (Punjab, 18.66m) and national record-holder Om Prakash Singh Karhana (ONGC, 18.64m).
National record-holder Siddhant Thingalaya failed in his bid to qualify for Rio in 110m hurdles as he hit the third hurdle very hard that cost him dearly in his timing (13.75 secs) in a thin field.
Kerala's Shilpa Chacko (13.41m) outclassed her Kerala teammate N V Sheena (13.29m) in women's triple jump. Sheena, having a season best of 13.58m registered during the Kosanov international meet at Almaty, Kazakhstan last month could not find her rhythm today.
Maldives' Hassan Saaid was the fastest man of the meet as he ran the 100m dash in 10.37secs ahead of Krishna Kumar Rane (Customs, 10.46secs) and national record-holder Amiya Kumar Mallick (Odisha, 10.49secs).
Some of the biggest names in Indian athletics, who also have qualified for Rio, took part in the Grand Prix. Among them were Dutee Chand (women's 100 metres), Ankit Sharma (men's long jump), Tintu Luka (women's 800m), Mohammad Anas (men's 400m) and Srabani Nanda (women's 200m).
Other prominent athletes who took part in the event include two-time Olympian Renjith Maheshwari (men's triple jump), Amiya Kumar Malik (men's 100m), Jyoti HM, Merlin Joseph (both women's 100m), M R Poovamma, Priyanka Panwar, Ashwini Akkunji, Juana Murmu (all women's 400m) and Sahana Kumari (women's high jump).