With just two gold medals, past the half-way mark in the Asian Games, India finds itself awkwardly placed after having talked of attaining world standards at the end of the Commonwealth Games at home.

That athletics begins in the Games on Sunday, at a time when India is desperately looking to mint gold from anything other than kabaddi, should put the athletes, seemingly outstanding in the Commonwealth Games, with a dozen medals, under added pressure.

Indian athletes contributed 10 medals in the Doha Asian Games, with just one gold, that from the women's 4x400m relay team. Will the relay team again be required to bail out Indian athletics? Is that gold a certainty here?

The CWG collection should normally translate itself into at least double that tally in Asian Games, for Commonwealth is very strong in athletics unlike what is being constantly projected. It is a different matter that in a few events the standards had fallen and in a large majority of the events in Delhi many top-ranked athletes did not compete.

Big question mark

A repeat dozen from the Delhi Games would be a good achievement for the Indian athletes here, though there will be a question mark over who could get the gold. From among Renjith Maheswary (triple jump), Om Prakash Singh (shot put), Mandeep Kaur (women's 400m) and Tintu Luka (women's 800m), there is very little to choose as far as gold medal chances are concerned, though no one is a favourite.

Barring Om Prakash all are season leaders in Asia. Luka (PB 1:59.17), who was in tears after finishing out of the medals in the CWG, has the toughest task among these athletes since the world champion in the 1500 metres, Maryam Yusuf Jamal of Bahrain (PB 1:57.80; SB 1:59.89), who took the 800-1500 double in the Doha Games, would be out to assert her class.

“Jamal's presence could drive Tintu to another sub-two-minute,” said coach

P. T. Usha. “She should do well since nothing has lacked in effort,” said the former sprint queen of Asia.

In her golden days, Usha had stepped onto the track when things were gloomier than this for India, to claim four gold medals including one in relay in the Seoul Asian Games in 1986. There is no one of that calibre now.

Vikas Gowda, who took the discus silver in Delhi, will have a more difficult time winning a medal here. He (63.69m) is well behind two Iranians, Ehsan Hadadi (season best 68.45m) and Mohammad Samimi (65.41) and could be challenged by Qatari.

Krishna Poonia who became the first Indian woman athlete to bag a gold medal in the CWG, has the unenviable task of overhauling two in-form Chinese, the Continental Cup winner Li Yanfeng (SB 65.83) and Song Aimin, defending champion, whom the Indian has not beaten in 12 meetings.

Mayookha Johny (6.64m) will go into the long jump competition as the best in the field in the year's lists in Asia, since the season leader Yulia Tarasova of Uzbekistan has withdrawn from this event to concentrate on the heptathlon, where she should start the favourite.

Leading athletes

With almost all the leading athletes of the continent having entered, barring world steeplechase record holder Saif Saeed Shaheen of Qatar and hammer thrower Koji Murofushi of Japan, this should be one of the best Asian Games athletics championships in many years.

The only question mark could be the extended season and the tendency of the athletes to drop a little in their levels of performance.

China which won 29 athletics gold medals when it last hosted the Asaid in Beijing in 1990, should be aiming for another commanding performance, better than its 18 gold medals in the Asian championships here last year, though Japan is in near full strength.

The fans should once again throng the stadium, like they did in the Asian meet last year, to see former world champion 110m hurdler Liu Xiang in action.

He had suffered a rare defeat at home last May to teammate Shi Dongpeng, but is reported to be back in form.

Six finals will be held on Sunday, men's 20km walk, hammer and 5000m and

Women's shot put, 10,000m and 3000m steeplechase.

India could be having hopes of a medal in the women's distance event and steeplechase.

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