Heat puts health at risk in Delhi state athletics meet

The Delhi state meet last week was one of the most gruelling athletics events of this season. It wasn’t the level of competition that drained the athletes though but the unforgiving heatwave. Temperatures have been rising unabatedly in the Capital with the mercury soaring beyond 45 degrees at the measuring station closest to Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Sunday.
Athletes, coaches and officials could be seen with towels wrapped around their heads as they carried on with the show. But the worn-out practice area, open on all sides, unlike the main stadium, provided no respite. The worst-affected were, unsurprisingly, the athletes who not only had to compete in such extreme weather but also warm up and cool down.

Dr Rajesh Prasad, an orthopaedic and sports science specialist, says competing in such harsh conditions will not only hamper performance but in extreme cases, can also cause health complications.

“One should not try to run in such adverse conditions unless you’re adequately hydrated and acclimatised to the heat. Enzyme activity drops at higher temperatures and adversely affects an athlete’s performance. There are chances of heatstroke, muscular cramps, nausea, and heat syncope (fainting),” Dr Prasad said. “Cramps and exhaustion are fine but heat syncope can be dangerous and lead to further complications.”

The participants had no option but to bear the oppressive conditions.

“I usually train at six in the morning to avoid the heat. But here, I had no choice and the weather was really harsh. My performance was affected by the heat. I could have definitely done better,” said Ananya Singh, the winner of the U-20 3000m event on Sunday.

Ananya, who was left drenched in sweat after her race, wasn’t alone. Several athletes complained of cramps and dehydration post their events. “The heat is unbearable. My throat is dry and hurting because of the heat. It was even tougher for me because I had to compete in two events,” complained Keshav Tanwar who won gold in the men’s 400m and 400m hurdles.

Official explanation

Delhi State association secretary Sandeep Mehta admitted that the heat was a serious cause of concern and was deliberated upon in the run-up to the event. “We have to follow the international calendar and organise competitions timely. We scheduled the long-distance events in the early morning and started an hour later in the evening. If we don’t conduct the meet, how will we select a team for the upcoming Inter-State meet in Chennai?” explained Mehta.

Despite the planning, organisers had to conduct the 3000m and 3000m steeplechase in Sunday’s evening session when temperatures were above 40 degree Celsius, as “no other slots were left.”

“A lot of my athletes were drained by the heat. They could have pushed the evening sessions further and ended around 8,” said a coach.

Athletes who had travelled from the outskirts in groups camped under trees waiting for their turns. “My competition is in the evening but I have come with my team so will have to wait here till 4,” said a junior athlete resting on a mat under one of the trees.

Usually at state-level meets, athletes are mostly seen buzzing around the results desk to get instant updates. But this week, most athletes were seen hovering near the water stations set up for the event. “The water station is a lifesaver. They are giving us chilled water and cold drinks for free. We can take as many servings as we like,” said an athlete as she gulped down a bottle.

Despite the postponement of the Asian Games this year, it is a busy athletics calendar with the Junior Worlds, World Championships and Commonwealth Games. The next major domestic competition is the Inter-State Meet in Chennai slated for June.

“I think Delhi athletes will do better there because we have already faced such harsh conditions,” joked a middle-distance runner.

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