Gold for a throw or two

Looking back: Vikas Gowda and Seema Punia stood tall for Indian athletics in a tough year.

Gold for a throw or two

Even in a largely individual pursuit called athletics, discus and hammer throwers create a separate world for themselves. Big, burly men and women, they seek gold, hurling their implement from cages that set them apart from rest of the track and field.

In 2014, India had its eyes trained firmly on these cages. Specifically, on two towering individuals – Vikas Gowda and Seema Punia. Discus throwers both, they shouldered the nation’s hopes and came out winners. In a largely unspectacular year, Vikas and Seema provided the touch of gold in two major meets of the year – the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.

No Indian male athlete had won a gold medal in Commonwealth Games athletics since Milkha Singh in 1958. The burden of history was against Vikas at Glasgow 2014. A silver winner in New Delhi four years previously, Vikas had the talent and experience to turn it around. And on July 31, he did exactly that, with a throw of 63.64 in the third round to earn India’s lone gold from track and field at the Games.

A shoulder injury then almost jeopardised his participation in the Asian Games but recovering in the nick of time, the 31-year-old Mysore-born thrower fetched a silver for India, with an effort of 62.58.

A big throw, though, eluded Vikas who will be hoping to step it up in the World Championship in 2015, with Beijing playing host to the event.

Seema, who had brushes with doping issues in the past, bounced back spectacularly at the Asian Games, after taking the silver in Glasgow. It was her third straight Commonwealth Games medal – she had won the silver in 2006 and bronze in 2010. With the best from China absent in Incheon, the door was open for the 31-year-old Indian to barge in. A heave of 61.03 metres was good enough for the gold, and also for the tears to come rushing down. Tears of joy, of course.

The Asian Games was also the stage for India’s women’s 4x400 relay team to assert its might. Gold at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games had raised Indian spirits in 2010 but the doping scandal that followed took its toll. A winning combination was forged again at the Asian Championships in Pune last year and at Incheon, India repeated their winning formula, with the quartet of Priyanka Panwar, Tintu Luka, Mandeep Kaur and M R Poovamma decimating the field in 3:28.68.

Poovamma had an individual bronze in the 400M while Tintu struck silver in the 800, staying true to her front-running ways and going below two minutes again, a 1:59.19 giving her some satisfaction. Among other medallists, Kushbir Kaur’s silver in 20km walk was a notable feat, the first-ever silver for the country from the event.

With two gold, four silver and seven bronze, India were sixth on the athletics table, some way behind China, who topped with 15 gold, 13 silver and 11 bronze. The high of Guangzhou 2010 looked a distant dream, with plenty of disappointments dotting the Indian show.

Shotputter Om Prakash Singh Karhana, Long jumper Mayookha Johny, triple jumpers Arpinder Singh (bronze medallist at Glasgow) and Renjith Maheswary failed to make an impact in Incheon while at the Commonwealth Games, javelin throwers Vipin Kasana and Ravinder Singh courted controversy by not taking part, despite qualifying for the final.

Sprinter Dutee Chand’s suspension for hyperandrogenism created another controversy. The athlete stood firm and with support from the Sports Authority of India, took the matter to Court of Arbitration for Sport, challenging IOC’s and IAAF’s rules. She was allowed to compete in domestic meets by the CAS, pending its final verdict which is expected next year.

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