By Avishek Roy
New Delhi, Dec 12 (IANS) After back-to-back gold medals at the Commonwealth and the Asian Games, the women's 4X400 relay team is seriously aiming at a possible Olympic medal in London in 2012.
Manjeet Kaur, Sini Jose, Ashwini Chidananda, and Mandeep Kaur have raised the bar after their great showing in New Delhi and Guangzhou, a throwback to the days of P. T. Usha, Shiny Wilson, M.D.Valsamma and Vandana Rao when the relay team was a big hit and a sure-shot medal winner in the region.
Manjeet, who was also part of the gold medal winning team in the Doha Asian Games four years ago, told IANS that their recipe for success is unity among the runners.
"The gold at the Commonwealth Games was more satisfying because the level of the competition was higher. After that everyone said that a gold at the Asian Games is there for the taking. We did, however, not take any chances as Kazakhstan and China were good teams and we expected a tough fight."
In the Comonwealth Games, the Indians clocked 3:27.77 for the gold, leaving behind strong teams like Nigeria and England. In the Asian Games, they won comfortably even though they had clocked 3:29.02.
"A big factor in our Guangzhou victory was that we were back on the track training after the Commonwealth Games, skipping all felicitations. It would have been a job half done if we had not won the Asian Games gold. We are happy that the hard work paid off," said Manjeet, who was part of the quartet that set the national record (3:26.89) at the Athens Olympics in 2004 along with Chitra K. Soman, Rajwinder Kaur and K. M. Beenamol to finish third in the heats.
Four years later, at the Beijing Olympics, Manjeet, Sathi Geetha, Chitra K. Soman, and Mandeep clocked 3:28.83 to finish seventh in their heat.
Manjeet considers the present team the best she has run with.
"There is no senior or junior in the team. We train together and we spend time together. We gell very well and it is the team spirit that drives us.
"If all four can cut down our individual lap timing to sub 51 sec, which is very much achievable, we should be in the medal bracket in London."
But it is easier said than done as their season's best (3:27.77) at the Commonwealth Games is 16th in the list of the season's best performance. Russians have the two best timnings this year (3:21.26, 3:23.76) follwed by Germany (3:24.07).
Mandeep, who ran the home stretch at Guangzhou managing to keep the the tall Kazakh runner Olga Tereshkova at bay after double gold medal winner Ashiwni opened up a big lead, said the timing would have been better had she not been down with fever.
"That was the only reason I could not win a medal in the 400m won by Tereshkova. So, I wanted to come good in the relay. She gave me a tough fight, but I had enough strength left to leave her behind at the finish."
"You have to use your brains while running the last lap. You have to pace it well so that there is enough fuel left in the tank for the final burst."
Even the oldtimers feel the girls have it in them to aim for a medal in London.
"This team is not dependent on any individual, all four are quality runners, each capable of clocking sub 51 sec and that is their USP, unlike in our time," Shiny, who along with Usha powered India to an unexpected 4X400 relay final at the 1984 Olympics, told IANS.