Athletics-Sprinters in the wind after anti-doping officials arrive at Delhi meet

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - By the time Lalit Kumar crouched at the starting blocks for the men's 100 metres final at the Delhi state athletics meet on Tuesday, the 20-year-old was only ever going to finish first.

All seven of Kumar's opponents withdrew from the race at the capital's Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium citing cramp or muscle strains. However, organisers suspect they pulled out after getting wind of the imminent arrival of officials from India's anti-doping agency (NADA).

"An odd withdrawal is understandable, but when seven runners withdraw, you know something is fishy," Sandeep Mehta, secretary of the Delhi Athletics Association (DAA), told Reuters on Wednesday.

"There are some throwers as well who disappeared before competition and all of them should be tested by NADA. We are sharing with them details of the athletes who fled.

"If any of them return adverse results, we will ban them in Delhi and will recommend the Athletics Federation of India does the same."

Mehta also confirmed that some athletes from the meet did not turn up to collect their medals, raising more doping suspicions.

NADA Director General Vimal Anand was not immediately available for comment.

Doping is a serious problem in India.

The country ranked second behind Russia in anti-doping rule violations in a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report published in May.

Kumar, who was hailed on social media for being an "honest athlete in a dirty sport", was dismayed at how the competition panned out.

"I was really looking forward to running against the best athletes, but nobody turned up," he told the Indian Express newspaper.

"Everyone was scared of getting tested. As an athlete, I feel very hurt and let down."

The DAA said it had decided to award Kumar a medal and certificate even though he was the lone runner in the final.

"He did compete with others in the heats, and it's not his fault that opponents disappeared before the final," Mehta said.

"We believe it would be wrong to deny him his medal and the certificate, and he will have them soon."

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Peter Rutherford)

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