4x400 women's relay team a strong medal hope: Usha

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BANGALORE -- The 4x400 women's relay team, which has secured its spot for the Rio Olympics, could be India's best track-and-field bet for a medal, according to PT Usha.

On Sunday, the quartet of Nirmala Sheoran, Tintu Luka, MR Poovamma and Anilda Thomas had clocked 3:27.88 to seal their position among the top 16 Rio-bound teams. "The entire team pitched in with their best efforts for their season-best timing and if they keep up this momentum, an Olympic medal appears to be a strong possibility," said Usha, who is in the city along with her protégé Tintu for the relay event at the Bangalore Grand Prix.

Had it not been for the slow changeover from Nirmala to Tintu, the timings could have been even better, said Usha. "Nirmala was slow in exchanging the baton, which had Tintu losing time and speed. That's something you just cannot afford to do."

Tintu, who couldn't qualify for the finals of the 800m event at the London Olympics four years ago, has struggled to go below the two-minute mark this season. Though she crashed out in the heats of the World Championships in August last year, her season-best timing of 2:0.95 earned her a spot in the 800m event at the Rio Games.

"Qualifying for the Olympics is a feat in itself -- particularly in track and field events," Usha said. "Both Tintu and the 3000m steeplechase athletes stand a good chance of qualifying for the finals this time. But in sprint I think it's going to be a near-impossible task for Dutee [Chand] and Srabani [Nanda]. While Dutee has had some great timings recently, every nano second counts in sprint and the field is way too tough."

Rueing the lack of competitions in the run-up to the Olympics for Tintu, Usha said the Athletics Federation of India had been far from supportive. "You can only translate your training into an Olympic success when you compete at events that match your level of preparation," she said.

She said they had also not yet received any support whatsoever from the Target Olympic Podium scheme. "Tintu hasn't received a single penny from it despite being among the qualified athletes," Usha said.

The celebrated former athlete said initially Tintu and she were not keen on travelling to Bangalore for the relay event. "Tintu is in great form but needs a couple of good competitions to be able to improve upon her performance," she said. "So far we have been training with the thrust mainly on endurance. She can certainly race under two minutes, 1:58 maybe, once we begin to work more on her speed. The final 100m stretch is where she needs to get better."