Around this time last year, three Indian long jumpers and triple jumpers qualified for the World Athletics Championships in Oregon. And a few days after that, the country won the triple jump gold and silver at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
The 25th Asian Championships begin in Bangkok on Wednesday and though a country is eligible for two berths in every event, India will have just one athlete each in many of the events where it is among the best in the continent.
That includes the javelin throw where Neeraj Chopra is the Olympic champion and the current World No. 1 and where Indians occupy three of the top four slots in this year’s Asian list. And in the long jump, Jeswin Aldrin and M. Sreeshankar are currently the World No. 1 and 2 this season but only the latter will be in action in Bangkok.
In the triple jump, Praveen Chithravel and Abdulla Aboobacker occupy two of the top three rungs in the continental list but the former has opted to stay away. That is the case in the men’s shot put too where Tajinderpal Singh Toor is the Asian record holder.
While Chopra and 3000m steeple chaser Avinash Sable have skipped Bangkok to focus on next month’s World Championships in Budapest, strangely some of the top athletes are either injured or have fitness issues after coming up with stellar shows earlier in the season. And Karanveer Singh, the second entry in the men’s shot put, has been withdrawn from the Asians at the last minute after failing a dope test.
Gomathi Marimuthu lost her 800m gold after testing positive at the last Asians, in Doha 2019, and the doping issue will be the biggest worry for the country as the Asians begin. With news coming in that national campers Anjali Devi, the fastest Indian female quartermiler this year, and seasoned sprinter Archana Suseendran have tested positive for dope, the scene should be a bit gloomy for the Indians in Bangkok.
Amidst the gloom, long jumpers – M. Sreeshankar in the men’s section and 19-year-old Shaili Singh, the Asian women’s season leader – are expected to brighten up things.
“I will do good here, body feels good, field looks good too...will be a nice competition,” Sreeshankar told Sportstar on Tuesday.
“Yes, the field looks easy but we don’t know what the Chinese will come up,” said S. Murali, Sreeshankar’s dad and coach. “And it looks like there could be a strong opposite wind for the jumpers.”
Incidentally, China has not entered its World champion Jianan Wang for the event.
Robert Bobby George, Shaili’s coach, was confident too.
“Shaili is a favourite for the gold, I expect her to be in the 6.70m range,” said Bobby.
“But surprisingly, the long jump runway is too close to the stands.”
Jyothi Yarraji, the Asian leader in the 100m hurdles, could expect a strong fight from the two Japanese in the fray, including Asian indoor 60m hurdles champion Masumi Aoki.
Defending champion Tajinderpal Singh Toor should have it in the men’s shot put while 2019 Asian women’s javelin throw silver medallist Annu Rani, who was seventh in last year’s Worlds, will be up against China’s Olympic champion Liu Shiying and Japan’s Marina Saito.
With Pakistan javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem, who won the Commonwealth Games gold with a 90m throw last year, out with injury, D.P. Manu’s chances look good.
China’s Yaoqing Fang, the indoor Asian champion who has a personal best of 17.17m (indoor PB 17.20m) could be Commonwealth Games silver medallist Abdulla Aboobacker’s rival in the men’s triple jump.
Meanwhile, Commonwealth Games high jump bronze medallist and National record-holder Tejaswin Shankar will be making his decathlon debut in a major championship and that should be an interesting event to follow too.
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