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Kalmadi gives it a miss

- Asian Track and Field Championships is shorn of big names
The Indian contingent during the opening ceremony, in Pune on Tuesday

Pune: The Asian Athletics Association (AAA) election, here on Monday, did have a huge impact on the two strongmen of Indian athletics.

On Tuesday, when the 20th Asian Track and Field Championships was formally inaugurated by Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, both Suresh Kalmadi and Lalit Bhanot decided to give it a miss. This was despite the fact that Kalmadi’s name figured in the list of dignitaries for the opening ceremony.

Kalmadi was jailed and later released on bail for Commonwealth Games-related corruption charges, while Bhanot was in Pune a couple of days back to help Kalmadi in the AAA election.

Kalmadi, who failed to retain the post of president of the AAA on Monday, is the former president of Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and Indian Olympic Association (IOA). He is also a member of Parliament from Pune.

The AFI officials remained tight-lipped on Kalmadi’s absence from the show. “We have no idea why he was not here, you have to ask him,” was the curt reply of a senior AFI official.

Though there is not much to complain about the organisation of the meet so far, the absence of a number of top athletes has dampened the spirit of the fans.

Star Qatari high jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim has pulled out due to a back strain, taking the sheen off the continental showpiece event which has seen pull-outs by some of the top draws. “Off for a while, Out from Birmingham DL (Diamond League) and the Asian Championship, back injury,” Barshim, the 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist and current world leader, wrote on his Twitter handle.

A Qatari official said Barshim wanted to compete, but he had to think over avoiding aggravating his injury in view of next month’s World Championships in Moscow.

The 22-year-old Barshim, who is also the defending champion, was one among the very few star attractions left in the Championships after some top athletes of the continents decided to skip the meet.

The biennial showpiece event is not without the likes of London Olympics gold medallist triple jumper Olga Rypakova of Kazakhstan who recently gave birth to a baby boy, London silver winner discus thrower Ehsan Hadadi of Iran and reigning world champion and London silver medallist discus thrower Li Yanfeng of China.

Japan, who have sent the second biggest team, are without world champion hammer thrower Koji Murofush and sensational teenage 100m sprinter Yoshihide Kiryu who ran 10.01s recently.

Also to arrive was a contingent of five athletes from Pakistan. They had a practice session in the evening and said they were enjoying their stay in Pune. “Everything went off well. We had no problem in getting visa or hotel booking. We find the facilities satisfactory,” said Pakistan chief coach Mohammad Yusuf.

Meanwhile, the organisers were forced to issue an apology because of a faux pas during the opening ceremony. With no athletes from UAE and Kuwait arriving for the march past, local volunteers carried the flags of the two Middle East countries, This prompted a protest from the officials of the two countries. The organisers quickly issued an apology to calm the frayed tempers.