With the Asian athletics championships returning to India after a gap of 24 years, hopes indeed are high of an improved showing by the home squad, when compared to Kobe two years ago, as the action of the 20th edition is set to commence at Balewadi from Wednesday.
In 2011, India was originally bracketed in the eighth position with a tally of one gold, two silver and eight bronze medals, prior to it being upgraded to the seventh place after a silver medal was awarded to the country on account of doping sanctions later on. A far cry from the tally of seven gold, nine silver and six bronze medals that the country amassed to gain the second spot behind China at New Delhi in 1989.
However, India’s best showing in the championships came in 1985 at Jakarta where it finished with 10 gold, seven silver and six bronze medals.
And now with a jumbo contingent of 108 athletes, the obvious question is how many gold medals India can collect through the next five days.
The Indian camp is upbeat about putting up a good display though the chief coach, Bahadur Singh, did make an effort to get early bail on Tuesday by saying that the presence of such a huge squad here was primarily to provide exposure to the young athletes who have already been marked out as prospects for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Realistically India’s chances are limited given the form book of our athletes through the early part of this season. Of the 42 events in which the competitions are to be held, the preview rankings put only one Indian on top — Sudha Singh — in the women’s 3000m steeplechase as Vikas Gowda has now been moved out to the second rung in men’s discus throw following an improved display by Ehsan Hadadi of Iran last week. Fortunately for India, the four-time winner will not be seen in action here as he is focused on the next month’s World championships in Moscow.
As it is, this should put Gowda as the firm favourite in his pet event should he repeat his season’s best of 65.92m. However, he would have to be still watchful as the likes of Sultan Mubarak Al-Dawoodi (Saudi Arabia) and Iran’s Mahmoud Samimi are two potential contenders for the gold.
Besides the burly Gowda, India could also be in with a chance to strike it rich through Renjith Maheswary, who has already gained a berth for the Moscow meet. However, the Kerala triple jumper is known for his inconsistency (London Olympics being a recent example) during big meets and this apart, the presence of Kazakhstan’s Roman Valiyev with a season best of 17.10m would mean that Renjith should be in his finest form to take regain the title, which he won in 2007 at Amman, Jordan.
Other than the duo, the Indian challenge would be mostly led by its women athletes. Besides Sudha Singh, others who could garner gold medals most likely include M.R. Poovamma, who through the last couple of years, has been shaping up to be a fine quarter-miler and Tintu Luku in the 800m. However, Tintu, would still have to encounter a superior athlete in Wang Chunyu to come out unscathed from the two-lapper.
At Kobe, it was Mayookha Johny who had saved India’s blushes by winning its lone gold medal with a leap of 6.56m. However, she has not been in her best form through the season, achieving only a moderate 6.49m at the last month’s inter-State meet in Chennai. Mayookha is also reported to be suffering from an injury and, if that aggravates, it could be a big blow to the Indian plans.
Keywords: 20th Asian athletics championships