As many as 1,637 boys and girls are set to compete at the 36th National Junior Athletics Championships beginning here on Saturday, making it the country's single largest sports event since the outbreak of Covid-19 early last year.
Athletes from 32 States and Union Territories will compete in 145 events spread across four age-groups at the Sarjusarai Stadium.
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-athlete mark.
With World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi, slated for August, and the fourth under-18 Asian Youth Athletics Championships slated to played in October in Kuwait, the greater limelight may well be on the two groups of athletes competing in the under-20 and under-18 categories here.
Most athletes who competed in the under-20 Federation Cup Junior 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 1,500-5,000m double respectively in Bhopal and triple jumper Praveen Chithravel of 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 sharp focus.
Athletics Federation of India (AFI) president Adille J. Sumariwalla 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 1,700 entries now. To us it indicates the enthusiasm and eagerness among young athletes has not diminished at all," said the former national sprint champion.