Can there be a difference in script this time?


No matter how close Milkha Singh and P. T. Usha were in snatching a medal, both finishing fourth, a podium finish has remained a dream for India in athletes, writes K. P. Mohan.

India’s limited achievements in Olympic Games athletics had been confined to our athletes making the final of their events.

So far, only eight Indian athletes (*see note below), excluding the relay teams, have had the distinction of competing in the final, other than direct finals — Henry Rebello (triple jump, 1948), Milkha Singh (400m, 1960), Gurbachan Singh Randhawa (110m hurdles, 1964), Sriram Singh (800m, 1976), P. T. Usha (400m hurdles, 1984) and Anju George (long jump, 2004).

No matter how close Milkha and Usha were in snatching a medal, both finishing fourth, a podium finish has remained a dream for India in athletes.

There are forecasts for an Indian athletics medal in London; there are claimants, too. Not for the first time have we raised our hopes sky high.

The Commonwealth Games and Asian Games success have contributed to a massive media build-up that may suggest more than two or three medals for Indian athletes in London. When qualification itself has been tough for our athletes, any talk of medals should be unrealistic. Miracles can happen of course, as Milkha has pointed out.

Discus throwers Vikas Gowda and Krishna Poonia look to have the best chance to make the final if they perform up to their pre-Games promise and match their season bests. Gowda, who made the final in last year’s World championships and finished seventh (64.05m), had bettered the National record this season with a throw of 66.28m in April last. His bronze in the Diamond League meet in New York, at 64.86m was also significant. A top-six finish by this 6-feet 9-inch U.S.-based Mysorean is a possibility.

Hoping to make a mark...Discus throwers Vikas Gowda (top) and Krishna Poonia (above).-

The top two discus throwers in the world lists this season, world champion Robert Harting of Germany and two-time Olympic champion and world champion, Virgiljus Alekna of Lithuania have crossed 70.0m.

Four others have marks over 68.0m; seven others over 67.0m. Defending champion Gerd Kanter of Estonia has nine results over 65 metres.

One can only hazard a guess as to how difficult it is going to be for Gowda to live up to his country’s expectations.

Poonia also set a National record of 64.76 in the month of May in the windy conditions of Hawaiian island of Wailuku but has not touched that level since then. She has four career results over 63.0m including one over 64.0m. Both she and husband Virendar Poonia have talked about touching the 65-metre mark in London and thereby finishing on the podium. It is easier said than done.

The 30-year-old Poonia, Commonwealth Games champion, ninth in the season lists, has not touched 63.0m since last May.

Poonia had an overall 24th place in qualification (58.23) at the last Olympics and she was 28th with 56.75 in 2009 and 22nd with 57.17 in 2007 in the World championships. She did not compete in Daegu because of an injury.

Croatian Sandra Perkovic (season best 68.24; six results over 65 this season), who won the European championship, German Nadine Muller (SB and PB 68.89; seven results over 65 this season), who was the silver medallist at the World championships last year and European championships this year, Chinese world champion Li Yanfeng (SB 67.84), defending champion Stephanie Brown Trafton of the U.S. (SB and PB 67.74), Cuban Yarelis Barrios (SB and PB 68.03) and Russian Darya Pishchalnikova (world leader with 70.69m) are among the leading contenders for the medals.

Pishchalnikova has thrown the farthest since German Ilke Wyludda reached 70.96 in Seville in June 1992. She has a doping past, having undergone a 33-month suspension for switching urine samples.

A spot in the finalon her Olympic debut could be a tough proposition for P. T. Usha's protege Tintu Luka but not beyond her capability.-

A top-20 finish for any of the 20km walkers, Gurmeet Singh, Baljinder Singh and K. T. Irfan, would be a creditable achievement no matter the build-up given to them in the media, and the talk of medals even from former internationals.

P. T. Usha’s protege Tintu Luka may find the going tough in the 800m since she may lack race sharpness having had limited competitions this season. A spot in the final on her Olympic debut could be a tough proposition for the 23-year-old Kerala woman but not beyond her capability.

The other members of the Indian team are triple jumper Renjith Maheswary, shot putter Om Prakash Singh, marathoner Ram Singh Yadav, 50km walker Basanta Bahadur Rana, woman steeplechaser Sudha Singh, high jumper Sahana Kumari, triple jumper Mayookha Johny and discus thrower Seema Antil.

(*In the 1948 Olympics in London, long jumper Baldev Singh was 11th in the qualification round in a field of 21. With a jump of 6.99m as against the automatic qualification mark of 7.20m which only four jumpers achieved, he qualified for the final. However, he did not compete in the final because of an injury).