Raising the bar, raising expectations

After topsy-turvy build-up, India awaits reality check in the Asian Games, beginning on Saturday.

Indian contingents for the Asian Games pose with Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore during the send-off ceremony in New Delhi.   -  AFP

He is just 19 but national champion M. Sreeshankar came up with a massive 8.28m long jump during training in Thiruvananthapuram early this week. That was nine centimeters better than Ankit Sharma’s national record of 8.19m, which came on the road to the Rio Olympics two years ago.

“Normally, in long jump, if somebody does something like that in training, they could be doing 20 centimeters more in competition. So, if the going is good, Sreeshankar should do something like 8.40m or more in competition,” said Romanian Bedros Bedrosian, the national coach for jumps.

Around the same time, Asian champion quartermiler Muhammed Anas lowered the Dharambir Singh’s three-year-old national record (20.66s) in the 200m to 20.63s at Jablonec, near Prague in the Czech Republic, where the Indian 400m and relay teams are training.

The 18th Asian Games, the biggest multi-sport event after the Olympics, begin here and in Palembang on Saturday and the Indians are raising the bar, raising expectations too. That has virtually been the case just before every major Games, including the Olympics when Indians were very close to the world’s best in a few events on the qualification road two years ago, only to disappoint later.

Despite that worrying feeling, this could turn out to be a very good Asian Games for India and the country is expected to surpass its tally of 11 golds which took it to the eighth place in the medal table at Incheon four years ago.

Apart from athletics, a sport which has brought more than half the total number of India’s golds in Asian Games history, the country is expected to do well in badminton too.

But India will run into Uber Cup champion Japan in the quarterfinal of the women’s team event which brought badminton’s lone bronze at the last Asiad. Incidentally, Japan thrashed India 5-0 in their Uber Cup clash early this year.

Talking about badminton, Japan’s new men’s World champion Kento Momota will be one of the biggest stars here after Qatari high jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim, the IAAF’s Athlete of the Year, pulled out with an injury.

Chinese swimmer Sun Yang who is virtually eyeing a freestyle sweep, seasoned great Nicol David – the Malaysian who has her roots in Chennai is looking for her fifth gold 20 years after winning her first – and Chinese sprinter Su Bingtian will be among the biggest stars here.

The Chinese appears set to top the medal table once again but Japan, which will host the next Olympics in 2020, is likely to give South Korea a tough fight for the second spot.

Only the opening ceremony is scheduled for Saturday and shooting — which will be held at Palembang 600kms from Jakarta — and swimming will be among the prominent events for Indians in the first week.