Celebrations can wait

The surprise was in Navpreet being able to throw his best in more than a year in his first competition of the season and that too after having done just over 19m in training sessions.-R. RAGU

India had a haul of 15 medals, including five golds, in Amman recently, but the fact is that the country has more or less remained where it was in Doha last year, writes K. P. Mohan.

With five gold, five silver and five bronze medals India was only second to China in the 17th Asian Athletics Championships, held in Amman, Jordan. And on points table, calculated by German statistician Heinrich Hubbeling, India occupied the number one slot with 183 points, as against China’s 133. China, however, had a tally of seven gold, five silver and four bronze medals.

Does this mean that our athletics standards have taken a dramatic leap forward from the disappointing level of just one gold medal at the Doha Asian Games last December? Only the naïve will come to such a conclusion.

The truth is India has more or less remained where it was in Doha last year when the country had a tally of one gold, five silver and four bronze medals. On that occasion the only gold medal came from the women’s 4x400 metres relay. Had the Chinese fielded a team in the longer relay in Amman, it could have been touch and go for India.

Remember, China had beaten India in both Guwahati and Pune during the Asian Grand Prix series with far better timings (3:32.14 and 3:32.56) than what India clocked in the Asian meet (3:33.39).

The latest timing will also be of no great significance to the Indian team in its quest for an Olympic berth in Beijing next year. This was a designated event for Olympics qualification but 3:33 is not the kind of timing that will take the team to Beijing. The top two timings in the relays will count towards the rankings and the top 16 teams will qualify for the Olympics.

Apart from the relay, the other Indian gold medals came from triple jumper Renjith Maheswary, shot putter Navpreet Singh, woman quarter-miler Chitra Soman and middle distance runner Sinimole Paulose. The only surprise gold among these was Navpreet’s.

The surprise was in Navpreet being able to throw his best in more than a year in his first competition of the season (unless one counts the National Games in February as part of this season) and that too after having reportedly done just over 19m in training sessions. Obviously the man from Punjab had prepared himself well for this competition and it showed in the way he reeled off a series of 19.47m, 19.70, 19.23, 19.31, 19.68 and 19.68.

Chitra Soman, who won the 400m gold.-RAJEEV BHATT

The tougher test for Navpreet will come in the Osaka World Championships, if he takes part. He will need around 20.00m to qualify for the final. How he maintains his form at higher levels of competition will be the point to note, however.

Saudi Arabian Sultan Abdelmajeed Al-Hebshi, who posted an Asian record of 20.61m in the first week of July in Donetsk, was not there in Amman, but Chinese Taipei’s Chang Ming-Huang, who had also crossed 20 metres this season, was there. The Taipei man had a last-round throw of 19.66m to take the silver while defending champion Khalid Habash Al-Suwaidi of Saudi Arabia claimed the bronze with 19.51m.

Renjith Maheswary lived up to his reputation. He had produced a stunning 17.04m in Guwahati in June to erase a 36-year-old National record and by the time he reached Amman the experts were unanimous that Renjith would be a sure bet for the gold.

The pressure did not affect the Kerala jumper. If anything, it seemed to spur him on. He had a phenomenal series of jumps, 16.47w, 16.97, 16.94w, 16.93w, 17.19w and 15.83. (‘w’ denotes wind speed over the legal limit of 2m/s).

It is debatable if Renjith could have been stopped had any of the top three Chinese been there in the fray; he was in such awesome form. Yet, for the record it must be mentioned that Zhong Minwei (17.27) and Gu Junjie (17.11), the top two season leaders from China, as well as another 17-metre-plus jumper from China, Zhu Shujing, who was originally entered, were not in the field. Also missing was Asian Games silver winner Roman Valiyev of Kazakhstan whom Renjith had beaten in the Asian Grand Prix series.

Another Indian athlete who raised her performance above what she achieved at home was Anju Bobby George. She could not retain her long jump title, but her 6.65m, overtaken by Kazakh Olga Rypakova by a centimetre in the last round, gave proof of her ability to come back after having hit a trough through 2006. It also enabled Anju to make the qualification grade (6.60) for the Osaka World Championships though there was a debate about the wind-speed credited to her and corrected later for her opening jump that proved her best. She had one of 6.57m as well.

Chitra Soman and Sinimole Paulose’s gold medals were well earned, but the timings of 53.03 by the former for the 400 metres and 4:25.67 by the latter for the 1500 metres were ordinary.

Everyone complained about the lack of oxygen and strong winds, especially on the back straight. Coupled with the heat wave that hit Amman during the meet, it was tough going for the middle distance and distance runners.

Preeja Sreedharan earned her two silver medals in distance events without much fuss since the fields contained bare minimum, four in 5000m and just three in 10,000m. J. J. Shobha also had it easy for a mediocre 5356 that got her the heptathlon silver from a four-woman field.

Sinimole contributed the fifth silver, in the 800 metres. A wind-aided personal best of 16.64m by Bibu Mathew in triple jump stood out among the five bronze medals for India. Decathlete P. J. Vinod, in the running for silver much of the time, slumped in javelin, but returned a career-best 7441 for the fourth place.

With only a dozen athletes from the Asian top-two for the season and with none of the top Chinese in the fray, the medals surely were devalued. The Asian record of 9.99 seconds in the 100 metres by Qatari Samuel A. Francis, who had shifted his allegiance from Nigeria only this year, was the highlight of the championships. He bettered Japanese Koji Ito’s record of 10.00s set in the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games.

Other notable performances came from Iranian discus thrower Ehsan Hadadi (championship record of 65.38m), Olga Rypakova, who took the triple jump gold in a meet record 14.69 for a double, Thai woman javelin thrower Buoban Phamang, who had a meet record at 58.35, and Kyrgyzstan’s Tatyana Effimenko, who tied for the championships record in women’s high jump at 1.94.

The lack of preparedness showed in every organisational area. The stadium was not suited for an athletic meet in the first place. But Jordan, which took over the responsibility of hosting the meet after Lebanon pulled out at the last minute, had just over three weeks to get things ready. Viewed in that context it was a creditable effort.