Barshim to headline Asian bash

 Qatar’s new Asian record holder in high jump, Mutaz Essa Barshim, will headline the 20th Asian Athletics Championships next week in Pune which will witness competitors from 43 countries vying for top honours.

Barshim soared over 2.40 metres in the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene earlier this month to become the best performer in the world this year and he will be a stellar attraction in the July 3-7 meet at the Balewadi Sports Complex.

China and Japan will once again battle for the top spot but the super power of Asian sport haven’t fielded their best performers in many events this year. Japan too have shied away from fielding some of their best performers, perhaps with the World Championships in Moscow (August 10-18) scheduled so close to the Asian meet.

Missing out will be Japan’s new young sprinting sensation, Yoshihide Kiryu, who in May blazed to a 10.01 seconds, the fastest-ever by a 17-year-old. The mark though was not approved as a world junior record, with the IAAF ruling that the wind-reading equipment was not upto standard.

China’s top sprinter Zhang Peimeng will not be coming but Su Bingtian, the defending champion will be there. Samuel Francis, Qatar’s Asian record holder at 9.99 seconds, too will spice up the 100M contest. China’s best performers are missing from the 110M hurdles and long jump, with the country fielding a young squad brimming with talent, keeping an eye on the future.

Missing from the Japan list are the defending javelin throw champion Yukifumi Murakami, the 2009 World bronze medallist who bounced back into form this year and Koji Murofushi, the former Olympic champion whose sole focus is to defend his World crown this year.

Japan’s defending champion in women’s steeplechase Minori Hayakari will be absent in the event where India’s Sudha Singh is the season’s leader. Chisato Fukushima, the 100-200 double winner from the 2010 Asian Games, however, will be there, aiming for a double while China’s Wei Yongli, the leading Asian this year at 11.32, will challenge her.

The West Asian countries -- Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia -- are almost in full strength, with Bahrain’s champions with African roots expected to dominate the middle and long distance events. Featuring in the list is Maryam Yusuf Jamal, former world champion and London Olympics 1500M bronze winner, who has also been entered in the 800M, where Tintu Luka is India’s hope.

In discus throw, the absence of Iran’s Olympic silver medallist Ehsan Hadadi -- a four-time Asian champion -- is good news for India’s Vikas Gowda, who leads the lists with his 65.27M effort in Mesa, Arizona, in April.

In women’s long jump season’s leader Saeko Okayama of Japan is the top contender while India’s Mayookha Johny is the defending champion. Triple jump will miss Kazakhstan’s Olympic champion Olga Rypakova, who recently became a mother for the second time. But Anastasiya Juravlyeva (Uzb, best of 14.55) and Irina Ektova (Kaz, 14.48) will ensure a tough field.

World discus champion and Olympic silver medallist Li Yanfeng of China will skip Pune but China has enough depth in the event with Su Xinyue and Jiang Fengjing being the rivals for India’s Krishna Poonia.

Tajikistan’s Dilshod Nazarov in hammer throw and 2004 Olympic bronze medallist and two-time world bronze -winner Dmitriy Karpov of Kazakhstan are among the others who will apply sheen to Pune’s tryst with the continental competition.

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