Coaches optimistic; Maheswary and Sudha expected to do well

The recent National inter-State athletics meet held here offered the country’s top athletes an excellent platform to showcase themselves and improve personal benchmarks.

With the Asian championship in Pune scheduled from July 3 to 7 and the World championship in Moscow from August 10 to 18, this meet was significant. It gave the athletes the chance to qualify for both the international meets.

The top three finishers in each event made the grade for Pune while the two best performers in the inter-State meet — Renjith Maheswary, in men’s triple jump, and Sudha Singh, in 3000m women’s steeple chase — both met the ‘B’ standard and booked their spots for the Moscow Worlds.

Renjith and Sudha look to be the best bet to grab a gold medal for the country in Pune. It’s a known fact that India isn’t the best in Asia — it finished seventh in the last edition of the Asian meet in Kobe in 2011. This time, too, it will not be any easier with tough competition coming from the Asian giant China, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Bahrain and Chinese Taipei.

It is a minor consolation that India has the lone Asian record in the women’s 4x400m relay set in the 2005 edition at Incheon.

The country’s coaches, largely satisfied with the results of the recent meet, are looking forward to the Asian championship with optimism. In the last edition in Kobe, India had won 12 medals — one gold, three silver and eight bronze.

Ideal opportunity

With the event to be held at home, the athletes have the ideal opportunity to better their performance. Said India’s chief coach Bahadur Singh: “I am happy with our wards performance. We still have time (for Pune). They can still get better.”

Thirugnanadurai, Sydney Olympian and sprint coach of the National team, predicted India would collect its best-ever medal haul in Pune. “Our chances in the 4x100m men’s relay are high. Take it from me, we will win as many as 15-18 medals,” he said.

Tarun Kumar Saha, one of India’s sprints coaches, said the country’s best chances were in the women’s 200m. “I am expecting either a gold or silver, nothing else,” he said.

Ukraine’s Shvilli Evgeniy, who trains the National triple jumpers, said Arpinder Singh and Renjith Maheswary were “strong and not afraid of tough opponents”, and added that he expected two medals from the event.

He said tough competition would be from a “boy from China (Li Yanxi) and two (Yevgeniy Ektov & Roman Valiyev) from Kazakhstan.”

A silver medallist in Kobe, Sudha said she hoped to do one better in Pune, but will have to overcome a challenge from the 41-year-old Minori Hayakari of Japan (provided she takes part).

Sudha had defeated the Japanese in the 2010 Asian Games (Sudha won gold while Minori bagged the bronze) but Minori exacted sweet revenge by defeating the Indian in the last Asian meet.

Poovamma favourite

M.R. Poovamma will be a favourite in the women’s 400m, according to the National coach N. Ramesh, who is in charge of the event. “In 2011, her best was 54.34s, and now she is running 52.75s. Also, our 4x400m relay women’s team can get a medal,” he said.

Another medal prospect is O.P. Jaisha, who won a double in the 1500m and 5000m in the inter-State meet, and had taken bronze in 1500m in Kobe.

K. Prem Kumar, who became the fourth Indian to make the 8m mark in the long jump in Chennai, will be watched with keen interest.

Mayookha Johny, meanwhile, hasn’t been convincing in the triple jump this season (she had finished third with a National record jump of 14.11 in Kobe), and is now contemplating skipping the event.

“Long jump will be my priority,” said Mayookha, who won the lone gold for the country with a leap of 6.56m in the 2011 edition.

Shot putter Om Prakash Khurana, a bronze medallist in 2011, hasn’t been in sparkling form this season. Other medal hopefuls include Tintu Luka (800m), Bharatinder Singh (decathlon) and Preeja Sreedharan (10,000m).

Though the coaches are optimistic, it’s better to be guarded when it comes to Indian athletics, especially, given its past.

More In: Athletics | Sport