Disastrous past but AFI’s faith in relay teams stays strong

The qualification gates for the Tokyo Olympics open on May 1 in a majority of events and Sumariwalla has now virtually closed in on events where Indians could do well.

The AFI chief Adille Sumariwalla believes that a relay quartet will win an Olympic medal in Tokyo next year.   -  GETTY IMAGES

The Indian mile relay teams had a disastrous Olympics in Rio and did not even make the cut for London 2012, but Adille Sumariwalla still believes that a relay quartet will win an Olympic medal in Tokyo next year.

And that is why the 4x400m relay teams — which, however, did well at last year’s Jakarta Asiad with women's gold and men’s, along with mixed silver — get the best treatment from the Athletics Federation of India with long camps in countries like Turkey, Poland and the Czech Republic.

“The relay teams’ performance was disastrous in Rio, I agree with you. But they are being given the biggest support because we feel that in the next Olympics, they will win a medal,” said AFI President Sumariwalla in a chat with Sportstar.

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“That is our analysis. Now, if you want to challenge that, we can challenge it.”

Incidentally, the Indian women finished seventh in their heats and 13th overall (3:29.53s) and failed to qualify for the final in Rio 2016 while the men were disqualified. At the 2017 Worlds in London, the women were disqualified while the men were fifth in their heats (season-best 3:02.80s), 10th overall, and did not enter the final.

Entry gates open on May 1

The qualification gates for the Tokyo Olympics open on May 1 in a majority of events and Sumariwalla has now virtually closed in on events where Indians could do well.

“We are looking at a few events…the 400m, the two 4x400m relays, the 400m hurdles, we are looking at men’s javelin throw very strongly, women’s discus throw, men’s shot put and the men’s 20km walk though we had done badly there in the past. And of course, the men’s long jump,” said the AFI chief.

The new men in

While World No. 4 javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games champion, looks the best bet to bring independent India’s first-ever Olympic medal in athletics in Tokyo.

Tamil Nadu’s 400m hurdler Dharun Ayyasamy (World No. 24) has been on a national record-breaking spree as well.

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Jakarta Asiad gold medallist shot putter Tajinder Pal Singh Toor (World No. 27) and the young Kerala long jumper M. Sreeshankar, who produced an amazing 8.20m jump late last year, are the among the new ones to attract the AFI’s attention.

The picture will be clearer after the two majors in Doha, the Asian Championships from April 21 to 24 and the World Championships in September-October this year.

Distraction to others

“Ideally, we don’t want that many numbers at the Olympics. We only want to take people who have a chance of being in the final or getting a medal,” explained Sumariwalla.

“We want who are dead serious, otherwise sometimes when people finish their events early, in the first round, they start becoming a distraction to others. We don’t want that to happen,” he said.

“I would be happy if only 10 qualify and four come back with a medal. It’s better than 30 qualifying and coming back with no medals.”