Chances look rather slim

K.P. MOHAN

Since finishing sixth at the Athens Olympics, with a national record of 6.83 metres, Anju Bobby George has had only a low-key build-up for the World championships, in which she won a bronze medal the last time.-AP

ANJU GEORGE and Neelam J. Singh wrote new chapters in Indian athletics history at the Paris World championships two years ago. Discus thrower Neelam became the first Indian to qualify for the final while Anju did one better, by grabbing the long jump bronze, India's first ever athletics medal at the senior global level. Both are in the Indian team once again, along with male discus thrower Vikas Gowda.

Compared to Paris 2003, the chances of the Indian team look rather slim for Helsinki 2005. The best chance for a medal should rest with Anju, but her preparations had not progressed according to expectations.

Since finishing sixth at the Athens Olympics, with a national record of 6.83 metres, Anju has had only a low-key build-up towards her medal defence at the World championships. The major difference from 2004, when she meticulously planned her Olympics campaign, has been that she is without the support of a major sponsor. Her competition schedule was not exactly ideal since she had to miss a couple of meets either because of visa problems or because of lack of invitation from organisers.

Neelam J. Singh had started the season well, touching 60.65m at the Patiala circuit meet and remaining unbeaten at home.-RAJEEV BHATT

To make things worse, Anju and husband-coach Bobby George returned to Bangalore after a disappointing 6.35m at the Prefontaine Classic at Eugene, U.S. Bobby was of the opinion that she needed a break and also needed to build up her strength. Yet, after a month's training when she came back into competition, at the inter-State meet in Bangalore, the result turned out to be well below par, a 6.09 that Anju blamed on a painful knee.

The 6.41 metres at the London Grand Prix and the 6.47m at the Stockholm Grand Prix were improvements, but not really good enough to project Anju as a serious medal contender at Helsinki. But then she was not a top-level contender to begin with in Paris either.

With Olympic champion Tatyana Lebedeva concentrating on the triple jump this season, there could be some additional space at the top, but Anju's best of 6.47m for the season, looks modest compared to Olympic silver medallist Irina Simagina's 7.04m or Tatyana Kotova's 6.96m. The two Russians should start firm favourites for the top two placings, with half a dozen others, including Anju, contenders for the bronze.

Anju was confident, immediately after the London Grand Prix that she would be able to come back into top form within the fortnight's time she had at that stage before the championships.

Vikas Gowda has registered a 64.69m, a national record, this season. Going into the World championships he was within the top 25 in the world lists. He had narrowly missed qualification into the final at Olympics last year, touching 61.39 while the last qualifying spot went for 61.91. The U.S.-based, 22-year-old Vikas, son of former Indian coach Shive Gowda, is a confident young man who aims big.

The 6-foot 9-inch thrower became only the second Indian, after triple jumper Mohinder Singh Gill, to win a medal at the NCAA collegiate championships in the U.S. this season, when he won the silver. He was the favourite for the gold.

Neelam J. Singh had started the season well, touching 60.65m at the Patiala circuit meet and remaining unbeaten at home. The 34-year-old Hoshiarpur woman, who has plans to migrate to Canada, skipped the Asian Grand Prix series and also failed to make the training trip to Kiev, Ukraine, leading to speculations.

Vikas Gowda has registered 64.69m, a national record, this season.-R.RAGU

She was one of the disappointments at the Olympics last year, finishing 17th overall with a throw of 60.26m in the qualifying round. She had recorded 60.33 (qualification) and 57.92 (12th in final) at the Paris World championships.

Considering the poor standards of the others, especially woman quarter-milers who could have been expected to be entered for the relay, the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) did not enter anyone bar the above three athletes.

In women's 4x400m relay, India in fact had an automatic qualifying spot based on its last year's ranking.