Top athletics stars will look to punch their ticket to the delayed Asian Games later this year, during the Inter-State Athletics Championships beginning on Thursday at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar.
While the city saw rainfall in the lead-up to the championships, the athletes will need to brave the warm weather over the next few days as the event serves as a selection trial for both the Asiad in Hangzhou in September and the World Championships (Hungary).
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While Neeraj Chopra (javelin), who is currently nursing a muscle strain, and Avinash Sable (steeplechase) were granted an exemption by the AFI, all other Indian athletes will be present at the meet.
Both Chopra and Sable, who have already qualified for the World Championships in August, are currently preparing overseas in the build-up for the event in Budapest.
In the duo’s absence, long jumper Murali Sreeshankar, who is coming off a third-place finish in the Paris Diamond League earlier this week, decathlon’s Tejaswin Shankar, hurdler Jyothi Yarraji, long distance runner Parul Chaudhary, javelin thrower Annu Rani, and triple jumpers Praveen Chithravel, Eldhose Paul and Abdulla Aboobacker are among the top stars on the field.
The meet will begin with the 20km race walk finals on Thursday morning with Olympians Priyanka Goswami and Bhawna Jat going for gold here. The Asian Games qualification mark is set at 1:35:00.
With the Intercontinental Cup taking place at the venue on the same day, there will not be a simultaneous evening session on the opening day.
Sreeshankar and national record holder Jeswin Aldrin, who are both expected to qualify for the Hangzhou Games, will renew their long jump rivalry on Sunday. The 21-year-old Aldrin, whose personal best is at 8.42m from earlier this year, has struggled overseas with his last two jumps reading 7.85m and 7.66m in Greece.
The men’s javelin field will see strong competition in the form of Shivpal Singh (personal best of 86.23m) Rohit Yadav (83.40m), DP Manu (84.35m) Vikrant Malik (81.82m), Kishore Jena (81.05m), Sahil Silwal (80.65m) and Sachin Yadav (80.27m). Except for Shivpal, who is returning to competition after a doping suspension, the other javelin throwers have breached the 80m mark in the last two years.
All eyes will be on Tejaswin, who will be competing in his first decathlon event in India, as he aims to better his personal best score of 7648 points achieved in Arizona in April. The decathlon qualification mark for the Asian Games is set at 7500 points.
With Hima Das (injury) and Dutee Chand (doping ban) not in the frame, Yarraji will be keen to build on her impressive last 12 months in the 100m and 100m hurdles. Archana Suseendran, who beat Hima Das to gold in both the 100m and 200m in the Indian Grand Prix 2 in March, will look to breach the qualification mark of 11.42s and 23.43s, respectively.
The women’s 400m will be another exciting field with youngsters Heena Mallick Rezoana (Asian U20 gold medallist), Priya Mohan (Federation Cup gold) and Rupal Choudhary (U-20 Worlds bronze) all having a breakthrough last 12 months.
Star teen long-jumper Shaili Singh, who recorded 6.76m at the Indian Grand Prix in April, is primed to take gold at the Championships.
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