Athletics : Focus firmly on China, Japan; India hope for good outing in the Asian Championships
When continental powerhouses knuckle down to fight for track and field supremacy, will the hosts just sit back and be mere spectators, applauding the classy fare from Asia’s best?
That will be the question uppermost on the Indian minds as the 20th Asian Athletics Championships get underway at the Shivchhatrapati Sports Complex here on Wednesday, having put a painful build-up phase behind.
Twenty-four years ago in New Delhi, when India last hosted the Asian meet, they were second on the medals table with a tally of eight gold, nine silver and five bronze medals.
That was a time when P T Usha was at the forefront of the nation’s challenge, winning four gold medals.
A haul of that kind remains a distant dream these days. China and Japan, of course, continue to call the shots but the march of West Asian countries and the arrival of ex-Soviet republics have cut into the Indian tally. Caught in myriad problems in their domestic set-up, India have failed to raise the bar and occasional flashes of brilliance are all that they have managed in recent times.
In the last edition at Kobe in 2011, India returned with a haul of one gold three silver and eight bronze medals – a stark proclamation of their present status on the continental firmament. This season’s performances haven’t given indications of a golden harvest, with minor medals likely to dominate their tally. Home advantage though will be a factor that India will be looking to bank on over the next five days.
Long-jumper Mayookha Johny accounted for India’s lone gold medal in Kobe, earning a seat reserved for the continental champions at the World Championships. She also won a bronze medal in triple jump, with a national record of 14.11.
Mayookha’s progress since then hasn’t been impressive. Settling into a new technique has taken time and with a season’s best of 6.49, the Indian is only fifth in Asia this year. Japan’s Saeko Okayama heads the charts with 6.59 and is followed by compatriot Sachiko Masumi (6.50), Darya Rezichenko (Uzbekistan, 6.52) and Anastasiya Kudinova (Kazakhstan, 6.52). Mayookha, with a personal best of 6.64, is capable of rebuffing her challengers but she needs to strike her rhythm early.
In women’s events, Sudha Singh looks to be the best bet for an Indian gold. The 3000M steeplechaser was a surprise champion at the 2010 Asian Games but has done her reputation no harm since then. She won the silver in Kobe and heads the Asian lists this year with her national record of 9:45.60 at the Inter-State meet in Chennai. Bahrain junior Ruth Jebet, who set a best of 9:52.47 at the Arab Championships in May, and Japan’s Yoshika Arai (season’s best of 9:58.22) will be Sudha’s main rivals as she aims to sparkle on home soil.
Time to shine is also just apt for two other Indian prospects -- M R Poovamma in the women’s 400M and Tintu Luka in the 800. Poovamma headed the Asian lists after a 52.75 run in the Federation Cup in April but was overtaken by Japan’s Haruka Sugiura (52.52), who will not be competing here. It is upto Poovamma to seize the moment, with Kazakhstan’s Yuliya Rakmanova (52.86) her closest challenger.
Tintu hasn’t really had a good build-up. She had an ankle injury early on and after recovering from that, ran a 2:03.61 at the Shanghai Diamond League in May. That is well below her best of 1:59.61 but her coach Usha said the 24-year-old was ready to step it up for the battle against Bahrain’s Genzeb Shumi Regasa and Wang Chunyu of China.
Regasa has a best of 2:01.18, meaning Tintu has to be on her toes to convert her bronze from Kobe to a medal of brighter hue.
Discus thrower Vikas Gowda, a silver winner in Kobe, is another Indian targeting gold, especially with Iranian ace Ehasan Hadadi, a four-time champion, absent this time.
Vikas (best of 65.28 this season) leads the field here but he can’t afford to relax, with the likes of Sultan Mubarak Al-Dawoodi (Saudi Arabia, 64.25) and the two Samimis from Iran – Mahmoud and Mohammad – waiting in the wings. Consistency will be the key for Vikas.
Women’s discus thrower Krishna Poonia has been struggling with fitness worries and with China possessing great depth in this event, it will be difficult to see an Indian success story here.
The same will be case in men’s shot put, which used to be India’s event. Om Prakash Singh, the 2009 champion, has faded away while Chinese Taipei’s Chang Ming-Huang is the red-hot favourite.
In the jumbo Indian team which features mainly passengers, triple jumper Renjith Maheswary, the 2007 champion, is the one hoping to prove a point after his flop show in London, where he fouled all his jumps in the qualifying round. Kazakh veteran Roman Valiyev (season’s best of 17.10 to Renjith’s 16.98) is his main rival on paper but when it comes to Renjith and the big stage, more often than not, his rival is himself.
Officials apologise for flag confusion
The organisers of the 20th Asian Athletics Championships were forced to issue an apology after an issue involving the flags of two participating nations.
With no athletes from UAE and Kuwait arriving for the march past during the opening ceremony, local volunteers carried the flags of these nations, inviting anger from their officials. As they created a scene in the stands, the organisers quickly issued an apology, calming down the situation.