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As many as 1637 boys and girls in four age groups will vie for honours in 145 events in the 36th National Junior Athletics Championships in the Sarjusarai Stadium in Guwahati from February 6 to 10. Coming from 32 States and Union Territories, they will make the event the country's single largest sporting event since the outbreak of Covid-19.
With 159 athletes, Haryana will be the largest contingent this time, edging out Tamil Nadu (150). Karnataka (142), Rajasthan (110) and Uttar Pradesh (107) are the other States that will field more than 100 athletes in the competition. Given their battle with Covid-19, Maharashtra and Kerala have expectedly dropped below the 100-mark this time.
With World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi, slated for August, and the fourth Asian Youth (U18) Athletics Championships in Kuwait in October this year, the greater limelight may well be on the two groups of athletes competing in the under-20 and under-18 categories in Guwahati.
Most athletes who competed in the Federation Cup Junior U20 Athletics Championships in Bhopal last month are due to be in Guwahati. Sunil Dawar (Madhya Pradesh) and Ankita Dhyani (Uttarakhand), who secured the men and women's 1500-5000m double respectively in Bhopal and triple jumper Praveen Chithravel (Tamil Nadu) will be watched with more than cursory interest.
In the under-18 group, javelin throwers Vivek Kumar and Mohammed Arif Mansoor and middle-distance runner Arjun Waskale (Madhya Pradesh), Rajasthan's 110m hurdler Madhavendra Singh Shekhawat, Telangana's sprinter Jeevanji Deepthi and Nandini Agasara (100m hurdles and long jump) as well as distance runner Suprita Kachhap (Jharkhand) are some who will be in focus.
Assam Chief Minister Hon'ble Shri Sarbananda Sonowal today visited the venue to oversee the final preparations of the competition. He said, "My sincere thanks to Honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji for empowering us to start sports competitions in the country after a long gap due to Covid-19 pandemic. My best wishes to all the young athletes who are here in Guwahati for this competition and I thank AFI for giving us this opportunity to host this event."
Athletics Federation of India President Adille J. Sumariwalla said AFI is pleased with the number of entries. "Of course, back in Guntur in 2019, the number of entries were slightly larger, but given what the world has been through, we are extremely happy with nearly 1700 entries now. To us it indicates the enthusiasm and eagerness among young athletes has not diminished at all," he said.
"We are thankful that Sports Authority of Assam has encouraged the Assam Athletics Association to host the biggest sporting meet across any discipline in nearly a year. We are sure that the Standard Operating Procedures, drawn up by the AFI and the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, will be followed so that the sporting community at large will embrace safe sport," he said.
Lakhya Konwar, President Assam Athletics Association, said, "We are fully prepared to host one of the biggest sporting event in India post-COVID 19 hardships. All the mandatory SOP's of AFI, SAI and Government of Assam will be strictly followed during the competition."