Parasappa Mahadevappa Hajilol and Sonika will face have stiff challenge when they step up to defend their men and women’s crowns respectively in the 56th National Cross Country Championships in Kohima on Saturday.
Both emerged from the ranks of the unknown to post victories in Panchkula. Parasappa Mahadevappa Hajilol can expect the 2020 champion Abhishek Pal and Adesh Yadav, bronze medalist last year, as well as a host of others to try and wear him down. Sonika will face the additional responsibility to help Railways wrest the women’s team title from Haryana.
Hosted by the Nagaland Athletics Association, the eight-event card across age-groups is being run concurrently with the South Asian Cross Country Championships with 42 overseas competitors, including 21 women, from Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka in the field. It is the first international sports competition hosted in Nagaland.
Besides the usual contest for the top honours between teams from Services, led by Darshan Singh and Hari Singh, and Railways in the men’s section, the battle for individual title could be pepped up by the presence of Haryana’s Prince Nagar the Men’s U20 Championship in Panchkula.
In the women’s section, the fight for the team title would be among defending champion Haryana, fielding a new-look squad, powerhouse Railways and Maharashtra. Sonika, who has moved from Haryana to Railways, will face Komal Chandrakant Jagdale and Nikita Vijay Raut, her own team-mate Varsha Devi, runner-up at Warangal in 2020 and Rebi Pal.
To start and finish in the Indira Gandhi Stadium, the races will offer the field the challenge of some undulating terrain and different surfaces. The depth in the entry list gives rise to the expectation that quality of competition could be high, especially in the men and women’s 10km races.