Neeraj for class, Chitra for surprise

The 19-year-old Neeraj Chopra was the star of the Indian contingent, winning the gold medal in javelin, with a throw of 85.23m, a meet record. Another youngster, P. U. Chitra, too, delivered a sublime performance, winning the gold medal in the women’s 1500m.

And just when everybody thought that Neeraj would perhaps settle for bronze, came the big one. He uncorked a huge 85.23m throw, which was close to his season best, and sealed the gold medal.   -  AFP

Despite arriving in Bhubaneswar with an impressive fifth place in the Diamond League in Paris, not many were willing to put their money on under-20 World champion Neeraj Chopra to hit gold at the Asian Athletics Championships.

Radhakrishnan Nair, the deputy national coach, was one of them. “That guy from Taipei, Chao-Tsun Cheng, is far too strong, he has been very consistent, has beaten Neeraj a few times this season too,” said Radhakrishnan. “We don’t expect gold from Neeraj.”

After the halfway stage of the javelin throw event, Radhakrishnan’s words appeared to be running true, for the 19-year-old Indian record holder was not even among the top five.

There were some exciting twists and turns and at one stage, Davinder Singh Kang — who many thought would be under pressure after the thrower tested positive for marijuana recently — even emerged as the leader. Two rounds later, in the fourth, Qatar’s Bader Magour Ahmed pushed his way ahead.

And just when everybody thought that Neeraj would perhaps settle for bronze, came the big one. He uncorked a huge 85.23m throw, which was close to his season best, and sealed the gold medal.

For sheer quality, this was an Indian high at the Asians, the best performance by a host athlete at the nicely-planned Kalinga Stadium. It was also a meet record with the top three, including silver medallist Bader Ahmed and bronze winner Davinder, bettering the old mark (83.27m).

Neeraj’s gold medal was the most sparkling one among the 12 yellows that helped India top the medal table (12g, 5s, 12b, total 29) at the Asians for the first time ever with the mighty Chinese finishing a distant second with eight golds. Japan went without a gold, finishing 16th despite its 14 medals. This was India’s best-ever tally on gold count, too, beating the 10, which the country had won at the 1985 Jakarta Asians, with P. T. Usha bringing five of them, including one in the relay.

Top stars missing

What could be the reason for this record high? After winning just four golds at the last Asians in Wuhan, has India finally found the formula to succeed?

Since the London Worlds were just a month away, many of the top stars did not bother to come to Bhubaneswar, including the strong Bahrain team. And those who came were mainly looking to qualify for London from the Asians. The postponement of the Asians, from June to July, was another reason why many gave it a miss. But it did not matter for the host athletes who appeared an inspired lot even as heavy rain played havoc with performances on two of the four days of the championship.

Muhammed Anas proved that he was close to his best by coming under the Worlds qualifying time, for the second time in about two months, in the semifinal with his 45.48s run.   -  PTI

 

Anas close to his best

Let us also look at the other Indian highs and also the lows and surprises. Just a few days before the Asians, there was talk that Muhammed Anas, the 400m national record holder, would be forced to pull out of Bhubaneswar with a painful back.

But the Kerala quarter-miler proved that he was close to his best by coming under the Worlds qualifying time, for the second time in about two months, in the semifinal with his 45.48s run. He was slower in the final as he staved off a strong challenge from Tamil Nadu’s Arokia Rajiv.

Nirmala Sheoran’s powerful run in the women’s 400m, that brought the Haryana girl her first Asians gold medal, was another performance that stood out for its sheer dominance, while Kerala’s 19-year-old Jisna Mathew, who held off the consistent M. R. Poovamma for the bronze medal, proves that the future indeed is bright.

Barman’s best

West Bengal’s Swapna Barman, the heptathlon gold medallist, was one of the few athletes who bettered their personal bests at the Asians, with an impressive high jump that would have brought her a gold medal in the individual event too.

And then there was the two-gold high by Tamil Nadu distance runner G. Lakshmanan, the first Indian to do the 5000-10,000m double at the Asians.

P. U. Chitra delivered a sublime performance, winning the gold medal in the women’s 1500m.   -  AFP

 

Miracle maiden

For sheer surprise, nothing could beat Palakkad’s P. U. Chitra’s gold medal in the women’s 1500m. Almost all the runners in the fray appeared to have better personal and season’s best times, but the 22-year-old from Mundur, one of Kerala’s leading nurseries in the sport, did not allow it to pull her down by running her way to the gold medal in her maiden international meet.

“This certainly looks like a dream, this was not expected at all,” said Chitra.

The lows

There were many lows too. Long jumper Ankit Sharma, triple jumper Arpinder Singh and sprint hurdler Siddhanth Thingalaya, who promised medals in the run-up to the Asians, could not deliver in Bhubaneswar.

Annu Rani’s bronze medal in the women’s javelin throw was a bit of a disappointment too. The national record holder, who had qualified for the Worlds earlier, had revealed that she was in the 64m range in training, but could only manage a 57.32m throw.

“She couldn’t get her rhythm right, the flow was missing. We are very disappointed with this medal,” said her coach Kashinath Naik, the former international.

Still, on the whole, this turned out to be a good Asians for India.

The golden stars

Men: Muhammed Anas (400m), Ajay Kumar Saroj (1500m), G. Lakshmanan (5000 & 10,000m), Neeraj Chopra (javelin throw), 4x400m relay team (Kunju Muhammed, Amoj Jacob, Muhammed Anas, Arokia Rajiv).

Women: Nirmala Sheoran (400m), P. U. Chitra (1500m), Sudha Singh (3000m steeple chase), Manpreet Kaur (shot put), 4x400m relay (Debashree Mazumdar, M.R. Poovamma, Jisna Mathew, Nirmala Sheoran), Swapna Barman (heptathlon).