India at the London World Athletics Championships

Great Indian hope: A lot is expected of World junior javelin champion Neeraj Chopra

Great Indian hope: A lot is expected of World junior javelin champion Neeraj Chopra  

Javelin prodigy Neeraj Chopra will be up against some of the greatest throwers in the history of the sport, but don't count him out

Neeraj Chopra

Age: 19 (Dec. 24, 1997; State: Haryana)

Personal best: 86.48m (under-20 World Record, season best 85.63)

Honours: World u-20 champion (2016), Asian champion (2017)

Event time (IST): Qualification (Aug. 10, 11.35 p.m.), final (Aug. 13, 12.45 a.m.)

He may be just 19 and making his senior World Championships debut, but Neeraj Chopra carries the country’s hopes in London.

London will have one of the strongest javelin fields ever at the Worlds, with three of the five greatest throwers in history – Germans Johannes Vetter and Thomas Rohler, the Olympic champion, along with Kenyan Julius Yego – in the fray.

But strange things happen at the Worlds and the Olympics. None of the Germans won a medal at the last Worlds in Beijing, Yego surprising all for the gold. And at the 2012 London Olympics, Trinidad’s 19-year-old Keshorn Walcott swung to a stunning gold a month after winning the Junior Worlds.

“I will give it my best shot and try to break the National Record. Competing in the Diamond League has helped me a lot,” says Neeraj Chopra.

Chopra’s season best of 85.63m looks small compared to Vetter’s 94.44 and Rohler’s 93.90, and the Indian will virtually start as the 11th seed in London. But the youngster is capable of a top-five finish and if the stars align magically, as they sometimes do, he enter wonderland. Only one Indian, long jumper Anju Bobby George with her bronze in 2003, has won a medal at the senior Worlds so far.

Nirmala Sheoran

Age: 22 (July 15, 1995; Haryana)

Event: 400m & 4x400m relay

Personal best (400m): 51.28s (also season best)

Honours: Asian champion, Rio Olympics (6th, heats)

Event time (IST): Heats (Aug. 6, 4.25 p.m.), semifinal (Aug. 8, 1.25 a.m.), final (Aug. 10, 2.20 a.m.)

Look behind Chopra and it’s a steep fall. For, the rest in the 25-member team are miles behind the world standard.

Asian champion Nirmala Sheoran, a wonder girl one day and an everyday Jane the next, is capable of entering the 400m semifinal if she comes anywhere close to her personal best 51.28m clocked in Patiala in June. That time puts her in 15th place among the qualifiers.

But the 22-year-old has been playing hide and seek on the national circuit, skipping a series of meets and then popping up in one to produce a stunner, raising eyebrows. She qualified for Rio with 51.48s, but crashed out in the first round with a mediocre 53.03s.

Muhammed Anas

Event: 400m & 4x400m relay

Age: 22 (Sept. 17, 1994; Kerala)

Personal best (400m): 45.32 (also SB)

Honours: Asian champion; Rio 2016 (6th in heats)

Time: Heats (Aug. 5, 3.15 p.m.), semifinals (Aug. 7, 12.10 a.m.), final (Aug. 9, 2.22 a.m.)

Muhammed Anas has been on a National Record-breaking spree the last two years but a back problem has pulled him down a bit.

A long jumper turned quartermiler, the Kerala athlete brought down his national record to 45.32s in the Indian Grand Prix in Patiala in May but fitness worries meant that he was not in full flow after that.

Now free and confident after winning his maiden Asian 400m gold at Bhubaneswar, Anas could raise the bar in London to make up for a disappointing Rio where he failed to get past the first round. He is ranked 32nd among the list of qualifiers but is capable of entering the semifinal if he keeps up his promise of breaking the National Record.

4x400m team

Nirmala Sheoran, M.R. Poovamma, Jisna Mathew, Anilda Thomas, Anu Raghavan and Jauna Murmu

Best time (during qualification period): 3:27.88s (season best, 3:31.34s)

Honours: 2017 Asian Championships gold (Bhubaneswar); 2014 Asian Games gold medal with Games record. Rio Olympics (7th in heats)

Time: Heats (Aug. 12, 3.50 p.m.), final (Aug. 14, 1.25 a.m.)

Of the 16 women’s 4x400m relay teams that have made the cut for London, 11 produced their best times at the last Olympics. India is not one of them, having crashed out in the first round at Rio, but the team now has a new coach in Russia-born American Galina Bukharina.

Bukharina, who coached the Russian women’s mile relay team to gold and the World Record in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, feels that her side is capable of entering the final, though it is ranked 13th among the qualifiers.

After winning the Asian gold in Bhubaneswar, the Indian relay girls were among the first batch to travel to London which has given the coach ample time to work out strategies. But the late arrival of Jisna Mathew, the 400m bronze medallist at the Asians and a crucial member of the team, in London could upset the coach’s plans a bit.

This year has been a slow one for almost all the women’s relay qualifiers. Fifteen of the 16 teams posted their best time last year though the qualification period, which began on January 1 2016, ran till July 23 this year. Does that offer hope of a path to final for India?

Men’s 4x400m team

Amoj Jacob, Mohan Kumar Raja, P. Kunhu Muhammed, Arokia Rajiv, Sachin Roby, Muhammed Anas.

Best time (during qualification period): 3:00.91s (national record), SB 3:02.92.

Honours: 2017 Asians gold. Rio Olympics (disqualified in heats).

Time: Heats (Aug. 13, 4.20 p.m.) final (Aug. 14, 1.45 a.m.).

The mile relay women have been hogging the limelight for long but the men have come up impressively in the last two years. They are now the Asian champions, have gone to the Rio Olympics and, despite being two seconds slower than last year’s national record time of 3:00.91s, they landed in London virtually as the sixth seeds based on their season best 3:02.92s in Bhubaneswar. Even Great Britain, the Worlds host, is far behind India this season.

While that is sure to raise expectations, it is worth remembering that India was disqualified at Rio.

Galina Bukharina, who also coaches the men, feels that currently the men’s team has more depth than the women’s and is capable of entering the final in London.

The team is a mix of youth and experience and apart from past and present national record holders Arokia Rajiv and Muhammed Anas, includes 19-year-old Amoj Jacob and the 30-year-old P. Kunhu Muhammed.

The rest of the contingent:

Men: G. Lakshmanan (5000m), Siddhanth Thingalaya (110m hurdles), Davinder Singh Kang (javelin throw), T. Gopi (marathon), K.T. Irfan, Devender Singh, Ganapathi Krishnan (20km race walk)

Women: Dutee Chand (100m), Annu Rani (javelin throw), Swapna Barman (heptathlon), Monika Athare (marathon), Khushbir Kaur (20km walk)

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Printable version | May 29, 2020 4:18:53 PM |

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