Chance for Vikas to deliver

The five-gold high of Guangzhou looks too distant as India brace up for a bumpy ride on the track

Chance for Vikas to deliver

With some rare successes on the track, India returned with a bright haul at the Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010. A repeat performance looks unlikely this time in a changed scenario but that hasn’t prevented the country from fielding a 56-member contingent for the Incheon bash.

Five gold, two silver and five bronze for a total of 12 medals made athletics the biggest contributor to India’s tally at Guangzhou. Preeja Sreedharan’s stunning 10000M race set India on the way and with some unexpected successes coming along their way, the Indians could return with broad smiles from China.
Of course, months later, the glow had diminished from at least a couple of those successes, with doping scandals haunting the sport. Subsequent events, notably the Asian Championships in Pune last year and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, have shown the lack of genuine talent in the Indian ranks and it isn’t going to be very different in Incheon.

A look at the Asian performances chart for the year shows only three Indians at the top of their respective events -- Vikas Gowda in men’s discus throw, Arpinder Singh in men’s triple jump and Tintu Luka in the women’s 800 metres. Competitions do not exactly pan out as per the top lists and while the Indians will be hoping for some surprises, it is more likely that they may have to settle for a little less.

Amidst lacklustre Indian performances in Pune and Glasgow, one man to stand out was Vikas. The towering discus thrower struck gold in both the competitions and he will again be India’s main hope in Incheon as they face a searing examination from China’s might.

Vikas, competing in his third Asian Games, won bronze in 2010 but since then, he has moved on to another level technically and experience-wise. Incheon is where he made his mark in Asia, winning a silver at the 2005 Asian Championships. This year, Vikas has a season’s best of 65.62 metres but after the Commonwealth Games, the 31-year-old hasn’t touched the 63M-mark in three subsequent competitions.
Iranians Ehsan Hadadi (65.23 this season) and Mohammad Samimi (season’s best of 65.46) follow Vikas on the Asian charts but the former, a two-time champion, has had problems with the Iranian federation and it remains to be seen whether he competes in Incheon.

Arpinder, with a best of 17.17 metres, will be looking to prove that the Lucknow effort was no flash in the pan. He did win a bronze at the Commonwealth Games in poor weather conditions but China have a couple of strong jumpers in Cao Shuo and Dong Bin, capable of upsetting the Indian’s plans.

Tintu started the season well with a 2:00.56 at Doha but since then, various factors have hampered her progress. The P T Usha-ward is yet to realise her full potential at the Asian level, with a bronze at Guangzhou being her reward last time. Kazakhstan’s Margarita Mukasheva, if she makes it to Incheon, will be Tintu’s main rival and it will be the Indian’s chance to make her experience count.

Preeja hasn’t had the preparation she would have liked for Incheon and it may well show at the Korean city, while her fellow Nikolai Snesarev-trainee, Sudha Singh, who picked up a surprise gold in Guangzhou, can expect tougher opposition this time, including Bahrain’s Ruth Chebet. 

Quartermiler M R Poovamma can spring a surprise but she will have to run a better tactical race than what she did at Pune last year, when she picked up a silver. She will have to shoulder the burden in the 4x400 relay too after having performed a similar role at the Asian Championships.

A clutch of minor medals may come India’s way in other events, including the women’s discus and men’s shot put but it is going to be a hard road all the way.

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