DOHA: Asian powerhouse China and strong contender Japan have not fielded their top athletes but host Qatar and India will be at full strength in the third Asian indoor athletics championships that begin at the Aspire Academy here on Thursday.

Only two women athletes, from among the 14 Chinese who top the current Asian indoor lists, 800m runner Liu Qing and long jumper Chen Yaling, are among the modest 16-member Chinese team. Last time, China had finished second behind Kazakhstan in the medals tally at Pattaya, Thailand, in 2006 and this time also, despite the depleted strength, China could be expected to make a strong challenge to Kazakhstan and Qatar.

Having fielded only an 11-member team two years ago, the 32-member Indian team, the largest in the field, is some sort of a surprise this time, but with the Olympics just six months away, the anxiety to get into the groove early, even in an unfamiliar indoor setting, is understandable.

The Indians are not exactly greenhorns to the indoor arena, with Sinimole Paulose having struck the lone gold in the 1500m in the last edition and having been in the golden bracket, along with metric miler Chatholi Hamza and heptathlete P.J. Vinod, in the Asian indoor games in Macau last year.

Sinimole and Hamza will be in the forefront of India’s medal hunt here. Both are in fine form and are also looking forward to achieving the qualifying standards required for the World indoor championships to be held in Valencia, Spain, from March 7 to 9. Sinimole will need to clock 4:16.00, while Hamza 3:43.00 for the 1500 metres.

Long jumper Anju George is also in the fray, though she is not headed for Valencia. Chen Yaling (6.45m for Asian indoor games gold) and Anju apart, there are just two more contestants in the long jump fray, Indian M.A. Prajusha and Thai Winatho Wassana. Opening day’s finals will be: Men: 60m and High jump; women: 60m, 1500m, pole vault, long jump, triple jump and shot put.

Men: T. Aboobacker, V. B. Bineesh, Vinay Chaudhary, Gurvinder Pal Singh and Virender Kumar Pankaj (4x400m); Sajeesh Joseph and Rajeev Ramesan (800m); Chatholi Hamza (1500m); Surendra Singh and Sandeep Kumar (3000m); Hari Sankar Roy (high jump); Krishna Kumar Rane (long jump); Amarjeet Singh (triple jump); Satyendra Kumar and Om Prakash (shot put); P. J. Vinod and Ram Niwas (heptathlon).

Women: Iylene Samantha (60m, 4x400m); Mandeep Kaur and Manjeet Kaur (400m, 4x400m); Chitra Soman and Sini Jose (4x400m); V. Leelavathy (60m hurdles, pentathlon, 4x400m); Sinimole Paulose and Sushma Devi (800m, 1500m); Preeja Sreedharan and Kavita Raut (3000m); Sahana Kumari (high jump); Anju Bobby George and M. A. Prajusha (long jump); Kulwinder Kaur (triple jump) and J. J. Shobha (pentathlon).

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