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Rai aims at 7.5m on comeback

Calcutta: The state championship wouldn’t normally attract an athlete of the stature of Sanjay Rai. But for the long-jumper, the 53rd edition of the meet which started Thursday, is special since it’s his comeback event after a 13-month lay-off caused by injury.

Rai — silver medallist at the ATF meet in Jakarta in August 2000 — had a good time in 2001, setting long jump and triple jump meet records at the National Open before an left ankle twist checked his progress at the inter-Railways meet in Delhi in March last year.

“It’s taken me a long time to recover. I missed out on the Busan Asian Games at which I was listed among the medal hopes by the Amateur Athletic Federation of India (AAFI). The absence has affected my confidence a bit. Let’s see how it goes,” said Rai Thursday.

“No other Indian has crossed the 8m mark as many times as I did. Not even T.C. Yohannan, who holds the national mark of 8.07,” said Rai, whose best of 8.03m came in Jakarta.

“After I crossed eight for the fourth time at the 2001 National Open, I thought I would soon reach 8.40, but the injury has pegged me back. Now, I feel better. The ankle is taking load once again.”

But how confident is he, considering he started jumping just ten days back' “It’s going to be a mind game for a while. I’ll be nervous while running in for my first jump. But if the first jump comes off well, I’ll be back,” said Rai.

The Eastern Railway employee, who hails from Benaras, said he will target 7.50m in the state meet. “If I clear that now, I should be able to clear 8m at the Federation Cup in Hyderebad in July, which will also serve as the trials for the world championship to be held in France in August,” said Rai.

The 24-year-old has already competed in a world meet — in Edmonton, Canada, in 2001, but returned a lowly 7.24m. “I felt out of place over there. The occasion was just too big. Maybe a few exposure trips would have eased the pressure. Also my coach Kuntal Roy wasn’t there.”

He thinks his best is yet to come since age is on his side. “Around the world, athletes are producing their best when they are 27-28. I still have a few years before I reach my peak.” But he does rue the absence of stiffer competition in India. “I have not been beaten in India over the past few years. To do better, you need somebody to push you.”

The athlete informed he didn’t receive any financial aid from the AAFI for treatment, though officials “encouraged” him and told him not to lose heart. But he doesn’t mind that as “it may not be feasible for the federation to spend on each athlete’s treatment.” Rai, however, received Rs 25,000 from the SAI for ayurvedic treatment in Kerala.

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