Japan, at home, should be more formidable than it was in recent years when the 19th Asian Athletics Championships gets underway at the Kobe Universiade Memorial Stadium here on Thursday.
Japan made inroads into Chinese territory last time when the championships were held in Guangzhou, winning 12 gold medals to China's 18. In the normal course, the Chinese, at home, could have been expected to gather much more precious metal.
Some of the top Chinese and Japanese have decided not to come this time. Former Olympic champion hammer thrower Koji Murofushi will not be there as in the recent past. Chinese woman hammer thrower Zhang Wenxiu, who posted an Asian record of 75.65m last month, will also be skipping this meet.
But there should be more than some consolation in seeing the name of Liu Xiang in the entry list. The former World and Olympic champion in the 110m hurdles has been in great form at the start of this season with 13 seconds in Eugene, US, giving him the second place in the list behind the winner, American David Oliver (12.94s).
The rains on Wednesday afternoon and a similar forecast predicted for the next four days may mar the events and dampen the spirits of sprinters and jumpers. Victory here will mean ‘standard qualification' for the World meet.
Some of the leading middle-distance and long-distance runners from West Asia, all of them former Kenyans, Ethiopians and Moroccans, are missing. That should provide the Japanese with plenty of chances.
India, recovering from the doping fiasco back home, should be striving towards maintaining its position in the championships. Last time, only shot putter Om Prakash Singh won gold for the country.
There were five gold medals in the Asian Games. Now, many of them look to have lost their lustre, following doping revelations.
400m hurdler, A. C. Ashwini, and the women's 4x400m relay team are those missing from among the gold medal winners in Guangzhou 2010.
Joseph Abraham, also a 400m hurdler, has not been in any great form this season.
That leaves India with Preeja Sreedharan (10,000m) and Sudha Singh (3000m steeplechase). Both events normally lack sufficient number of entries, and both should fancy their medal chances.
Om Prakash, despite a longish stint in Hungary, has only touched 19.10 this season in shot put. Chinese Taipei's Chang Ming-Huang (20.06m) looks to have the edge, though Chinese Zhang Jun (19.85m) should be waiting to cause an upset.
China has not entered its best in women's discus, but Krishna Poonia and Harwant Kaur have not been in encouraging form this season, and may continue to struggle.
There is a good chance that Tintu Luka could convert her Asian Games bronze in the 800 metres into a winning effort this time. The young Kerala girl had found it hard to cope with the cold conditions in Guangzhou 2009 and finished sixth, way behind her potential. She redeemed her reputation somewhat in the Asian Games.
Back from a hamstring strain, Luka, according to her coach P. T. Usha, was in good form, capable of clocking 2:02 or lower.
All eyes on Hadadi
Discus thrower Vikas Gowda has been in tremendous form this season, recording three throws above 64 metres.
However, the man to beat, as has been the case in the past three editions, would be Iranian Ehsan Hadadi. He has done well this season, too, with 65.89m to top the lists.
The talent of woman long jumpers / triple jumpers, Mayookha Johny and M. A. Prajusha may find full meaning in this meet, if pre-championship build-up is any indication. They start on the opening day with the long jump.
Also on view on the opening day would be decathlete Bhartinder Singh, who should be in medal contention if he can replicate his recent National record of 7658 points.