Heavyweights Services men and Railways women will enter as favourites as a challenging course awaits the 669 competitors in the National Cross Country Championships in the historical handloom town in Assam’s Kamrup district here from Sunday.
Among the aspirants who have entered the championships are 286 female athletes. The men and women’s 10km events have drawn 161 and 109 entries each. The men’s U20 8km has 130 entrants and the women’s U20 6km will see 96 competitors. Boys U18 (6km) and U16 (2km) and Girls U18 (4km) and U16 (2km) will have 48, 44, 43 and 38 runners respectively.
Railways has sought to bolster its men’s squad by including Abhishek Pal, winner of the 10000m in last year’s National Inter-State Championships, to try and pull the rug from under the feet of new-look Services. Uttarakhand will be the other team that would be watched with keen interest.
Despite losing two runners from last year to doping offences, Railways will be the team to beat in the women’s event with 2021 winner Sonika and Preenu Yadav leading the way.
Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have fielded experienced competitors and can present a stiffer challenge to Railways than in the earlier editions.
One of the other contests that will merit attention is the battle between defending champion Ritik Sharma (Jammu and Kashmir) and Tamil Nadu’s Walter Kandulna in the boys U18 race. The latter has scripted podium finishes over the last three years but will want to emerge on top this time.
Laid out not far from the northern banks of the Brahmaputra river, the course will offer the athletes a chance to express themselves freely. The 2km loop combines different surfaces and offers the runners some shade as well as it courses its way under trees.
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