A few exceptions apart, the `peak' never came

Gold at last. The Indian women's 4x400m relay team (Pinki Paramanik, Chitra, Satti Geetha and Manjeet Kaur) celebrates its victory in Doha.-AP Gold at last. The Indian women's 4x400m relay team (Pinki Paramanik, Chitra, Satti Geetha and Manjeet Kaur) celebrates its victory in Doha.

A team that struggles to get one gold in an Asian Games cannot be expected to aim for a medal in the Olympics. Especially when the country has not won a single athletics medal since Independence in the world event. K. P. Mohan analyses.

The Indian athletes were supposed to `peak' in Doha. But barring the long distance runners and triple jumper Renjith Maheswary, who were not really in medal contention, and woman discus thrower Krishna Poonia, no one managed to touch their season's best even during the Asian Games.

The end result was a disappointing 9 medals (Santhi Soundarrajan's silver was withdrawn, see box), including the lone gold that came on the last day of the athletics programme through the women's longer relay team. That Thailand had two gold medals to be placed a rung above India at No. 7 in the athletics medals tally should portray the plight of Indian athletics. India had finished second best to China last time with 17 medals, seven of them gold. So, what else did one expect from a 36-member squad in Doha?

Belarussian coach Nikolai Snesarev's wards, O.P. Jaisha (5000m) and Sinimole Paulose (1500m, below) lived up to the promise by winning the bronze.-AP

Nothing more perhaps. The signs of slump were there throughout the season, but the coaches, especially the foreign coaches, kept promising the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) that everything was right on course; there was no need to panic. The male long jumpers were expected to cross 8.20 metres; the triple jumpers 17 metres. Pinki Paramanik was aiming a sub-50 quarter-mile, while the shot putters were projected to come close to the 20-metre mark.

When even by November, performances did not pick up the knowledgeable knew what was in store.

PTI

A 21-day stint in Muscat helped provide a slight `boost' to the quarter-milers and throwers. There was a marginal improvement, enough perhaps to get the silver for Manjeet Kaur in the 400 metres, and enable the men's 4x400m relay team to pluck a surprise silver, but nothing more. The women's 4x400m gold was India's anyway unless someone dropped the baton.

The unseemly hurry to exonerate Seema Antil of a doping charge just a day after the athletics competitions began in Doha, did not enhance the AFI's reputation. Instead, it brought international focus onto Indian athletics for all the wrong reasons. Seema eventually dropped out. In a season when the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) teams had virtually hounded Indian athletes, the general feeling was that there would be no repeat of Busan success. There were encouraging exceptions though, none more praiseworthy than the gallant bunch of middle and long distance runners trained by the Belarussian coach, Nikolai Snesarev.

Chatholi Hamza was a surprise finalist in the 1500 metres, though he did not clock a personal best, while Sinimole Paulose (1500m bronze), O. P. Jaisha (5000m bronze in PB 15:41.91) and Preeja Sreedharan (National record of 33:48.45 in 10,000m and PB of 15:51.89 in 5000m) lived up to the promise.

Krishna Poonia who won the bronze in discus throw.-AP

Two other runners from the Snesarev stable, Sunil Kumar Singh (5000m-13:58.50) and Surendra Kumar Singh (5000m-13:59.05 and 10,000m-29:23.37) also clocked personal bests to finish within the top six and provide signs of a revival in distance running. In a Games dominated completely by the Africa-born athletes representing Qatar and Bahrain, in the middle and long distance events, it was impossible for the Indian runners to aim for the gold.

Renjith's 16.54m in triple jump was an excellent effort but long jumper Shiv Shankar Yadav (7.64m, seventh) flopped. Anju Bobby George had to produce a last-gasp jump of 6.52m to get the silver, behind Japanese Kumiko Ikeda. The star Kerala jumper was not at her best physically and she had come into this contest without adequate preparation and was short on competitive build-up.

Shot putters Navpreet Singh and Vikas Gowda proved bigger disappointments with the latter failing to get a medal in discus, too. Only in 1986 and 1994 had India failed to win a shot put medal. The solitary medal from the Indian men was in the 4x400m relay. The silver was a bonus. At best there was a bronze to be had, one thought. The Japanese and the Chinese, especially on the track, are rarely at their peak in December and that helped the Indian teams in the relays.

Irina Naumenko of Kazakhstan, a six-metre-plus long jumper, fouled all her jumps on the second morning in heptathlon when lying second and allowed Soma Biswas to gain the silver with just 5675 points and Shobha to walk away with the bronze with only 5662. Susmita Singha Roy must have been wondering, back home in Kolkata, what colour medal she could have had if she had been chosen on sheer merit instead of the AFI pitchforking Shobha through a hotch-potch trial on the argument that the latter was capable of crossing 6000 points! She was credited with a tally of 5861 in the trial but not many people were convinced about the genuineness of the marks recorded.

A team that struggles to get one gold in an Asian Games cannot be expected to aim for a medal that the country has not bagged since Independence in Olympics, let alone talk about a gold. If indeed that has to materialise the AFI will have to accept realities, shed its ostrich-like stance on doping and explore better options than training at Kiev and Yalta. A thorough review of the foreign coaches' performance is a must. Crores of public money should not be spent for such poor returns.

SANTHI'S MEDAL WITHDRAWN

In what turned out to be a big blow to the Indian contingent, 800 metres runner, Santhi Soundarrajan's silver medal was withdrawn by the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) after the Tamil Nadu athlete failed a gender verification in Doha.