Opting to host on an emergency, when Jharkhand pulled out at the last minute, the Odisha Government has taken the opportunity to showcase its development, through the efficient conduct of the Asian Athletics Championships.
In an impressive presentation made by the Odisha Sports Minister Chandra Sarathi Behera, Indian athletics was able to give its healthy picture through the presence of Anju Bobby George, PT Usha and Shiny Wilson who have shone brilliantly at every level on the global stage, except for letting an Olympic medal elude their grasp.
Odisha has been lauded for setting up two athletic tracks, high mast floodlights, completing required renovation of the Kalinga Stadium and addressing all logistics within a span of three months.
With Olive Ridley Turtle as its mascot, and working at extraordinary speed in putting things together, the 22nd edition of the Asian Championships has adopted the slogan, “Destination Odisha, the soul of Incredible India”.
Sports Minister Behera summed up nicely as to how Odisha, devastated by the “super cyclone” in 1999 had rebuilt itself brilliantly to be a leader in many areas in the country, under the leadership of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Pointing at the fact that Bhubaneswar had already become the “Mecca of hockey”, and vowing to provide the best hospitality for the athletic fraternity, the Odisha Sports Minister expressed the vision of the State that if ever India gets to host the Olympics, “Odisha should be the first choice”.
In giving a hint about the hurdles that had to be crossed, it was revealed as to how the only crane company capable of handling the 55-metre high floodlight towers had to be escorted by police to the arena from Rourkela, as the concerned person had “vanished after taking the advance”.
Expressing his gratitude, the president of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), Adille Sumariwala, remembered the suggestion of Odisha by the Union Sports Secretary Injeti Srinivas, when Jharkhand backed out after having successfully bid to host the event by paying a fee of $25,000 as far back as in 2015.
The AFI president said the host would field three athletes in all events except in those where medal prospects are low. The organisers said India will field the biggest contingent of 168 athletes. China (96) and Japan (78) are expected to have the highest numbers from among the visiting teams, in a total of 815 athletes that includes 310 women.
The AFI president said all necessary documents had been presented to the concerned ministries for participation of the Pakistan athletes. On their part, the organisers assured they were ready with nearly 1,000 rooms in various hotels, apart from all other requirements for the successful conduct of the championships.
“I am particularly happy for our juniors who have been doing well. We have got a gold in World junior championship. I wish our athletes win more gold medals and qualify for the World Championship,” said Anju George, who still has the long jump national record at 6.83 metres, set in the Athens Olympics.
Olympic finalist PT Usha recalled the golden memories of collecting 23 medals from the Asian championships over the years, including 14 golds. She was more happy about her trainee Tintu Luka winning six medals including two golds.
“I am thrilled to see my athletes performing well. Indian athletes should do well in these championships. My best wishes to the organisers,” said Usha.
Shiny Wilson also walked through the memory lane and recalled how she persisted in winning the 14 medals through six Asian championships, despite marriage and child birth along the way. The AFI president reiterated that some of the athletes, competing internationally, such as Sidhant Thingalaya in the men’s 110 metres hurdles, may have to undergo trials before their entries were ratified.
He hoped that India would win more medals than the 13 it had won in Wuhan, China, in the last edition.
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