Sudha, Preeja top contenders at the Natl Open Athletics Meet

Kolkata: A galaxy of Indian athletes with the likes of Asian Games gold medallists Sudha Singh, Preeja Sreedharan will aim to attain qualifying mark for the London Olympics when they compete in the 51st National Open Athletics Championships at Salt Lake Stadium from Saturday.

A week back the same venue hosted the Argentina vs Venezueal international friendly that featured world`s top footballer Lionel Messi.

The meet, however, will lack some sheen as Tintu Luka (800m), Gurmeet Singh (20km) and Vikas Gowda (discus throw) have opted to pull out.

In prime form, Sudha, who clinched the 3000m steeplechase gold in Guangzhou 2010, will look to make the cut as she will represent defending champions Railways in the four-day competition.

"Sudha has the best chance to attain the Olympic qualification mark from here. She is in peak of her form.”

“Recently, she eclipsed her national record effort of 9:55.47 twice during practice in Bangalore. We are really hopeful of her," national Coach J S Bhatia said.

India`s long distance queen Preeja Sreedharan and Kavita Raut, who will compete in 5,000m and 10,000m events for ONGC, however may have some difficulty to reach the qualifying marks for Olympics, Bhatia said.

"After the Asian Games triumph, Preeja had some continuity problems and the Kerala athlete is not in the peak of her form. It will take some time (for her) to get back to groove," he said.

"The duo will not have much competition here which is needed to push yourself for the Olympic standard mark," the coach said.

Bhatia, however, was confident of the duo`s Olympic qualification by early next year.

"There is nothing to worry about. If they can`t reach the mark here they will surely get the marks by participating in some foreign meets next year."

Mayookha Johny (triple jump) and Om Prakash Singh (shot put), who have already qualified for the Olympics, have also confirmed their participation and it will be a warm-up of sorts for the Indian duo.

Champions Indian Railways will be among the 30 teams from states, union territories, boards and institutions who will vie for top honours in the four-day meet.

With ONGC boasting many big names -- Mayookha, Om Prakash, Preeja, Kavita, Harwant Kaur (discus), Abdul Najeeb Qureshi (100m), Ghamanda Ram (800m) among others -- it will set up an interesting battle against the last year`s champions Railways who have fielded a largest contingent of 109 members.

A total of 880 athletes will compete in 22 events each in men`s and women`s sections.


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