The ‘elusive athletics medal’ should remain elusive for India as track and field action opens at the Olympic Stadium on Friday.
To leapfrog from an ‘also-ran’ status to a position on the podium is an impossibility, especially in athletics. Yet, that has not prevented officials of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) from talking about medals in these Olympics.
The odd personal best that may compare favourably with world’s top lists in a season may amount to nothing if consistency at the highest level is lacking, not to talk of success at the highest level.
By success at the international level we do not mean world championships and the Olympics alone but Diamond League and other Grand Prix meets of the IAAF.
It was not inappropriate to project Indian athletics in a positive way after the last Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. But in less than a year, a doping scandal struck the country’s elite female 400m runners, and since then it has been difficult for the sport to climb back at home.
One top-10 athlete
In a batch of 14 athletes in the Olympics, India has one top-10 athlete for the season in woman discus thrower Krishna Poonia (season best and personal best 64.76m, ninth in season lists) and three other top 20 athletes in shot putter Om Prakash Singh (SB and PB 20.69m), discus thrower Vikas Gowda (SB and PB 66.28m) and woman high jumper Sahana Kumari (SB and PB 1.92m).
Still, the dice is loaded against the Indians if only for the fact that Indian athletics history in the Olympics is limited to the participation of a select few in the finals. Moreover India’s record since P.T. Usha made the 400m hurdles final in 1984 shows just one more entry into an individual final, that by long jumper Anju Bobby George in Athens, 20 years later.
Indian athletes drew a blank in Beijing last time as far as making the final was concerned. Gowda finished 22nd in the qualification round with 60.69 while Poonia was 24th with 58.23.
Gowda has since then risen in stature with his seventh-place finish (64.05m) in last year’s world championships in Daegu. He could be in the final in these Games if he is around his season’s best, the only forecast his father and coach Shive Gowda has made since arriving here.
The hype back home, however, has surrounded Poonia — apart from the walkers — especially after her Commonwealth Games win, the first gold by an Indian woman athlete in the Games. She was the first to check into London in the first week of July, but her latest result of 61.26m is not encouraging.
From among the others, there is much promise in the way Usha’s trainee Tintu Luka has come up during the past two seasons in the 800m.
Usha has high hopes on her ward though she would be handicapped by the limited number of international races she had this season. An entry into the final will be a tremendous achievement for the 23-year-old Kerala woman.
Barring Sahana Kumari’s 1.92m, most of the personal bests or Olympic qualification marks have come from other Indian athletes in April-May this year or even further back. That some of them are nowhere near those marks closer to the Games may prove decisive.
The fortunes of Om Prakash, Poonia and Seema, and woman triple jumper Mayookha Johny (SB 13.91m, PB 14.11m) will be determined on Friday.