Awaiting athletes' display of magic in Rio

Without offering any hint or warning, Indian athletics has suddenly come close to the world’s best. P. T. Usha, now a leading coach who will have two of her trainees Tintu Luka and Jisna Mathew at Rio, dissects India's chances in track and field at the mega event.

P. T. Usha believes that her own trainee Tintu Luka is capable of entering the 800m sprint final at Rio.   -  H. S. Manjunath

This has been a magical season for Indian athletics. Triple jumper Renjith Maheswary is in the third spot in the IAAF’s world performance list this season, behind Olympic and World champion Christian Taylor and Olympic silver medallist Will Claye, both Americans and two men who are certain to figure among the medals.

To add to our joy, the men’s mile relay team is now the second best team in the world, just behind the USA.

Without offering any hint or warning, Indian athletics has suddenly come close to the world’s best. There have been other amazing performances, from Ankit Sharma who produced a stunning 8.19m long jump recently but shot putter Inderjeet Singh failing a dope test recently has many worried too.

India will field 25 athletes in individual events this time and apart from this, there will be the men’s and women’s 4x400m relay teams too. Never before has such a huge athletics team gone to an Olympics. So, will the Rio Olympics be a special one for India, unlike anything we have seen before?

Only nine Indians – Baldev Singh, Henry Rebello, Milkha Singh, G.S. Randhawa, Sriram Singh, P.T. Usha, Anju George, Vikas Gowda and Krishna Poonia – have entered the final of individual events in athletics at the Olympics before. Will Rio see a big change?

“True, this has been a wonderful season but very rarely have Indian athletes produced their best at the Olympics. If Renjith Maheswary is able to repeat his 17.30m at Rio or if Ankit Sharma does 8.19m or better, they can certainly reach the final and probably do well there too,” said P.T. Usha, who narrowly missed a 400m hurdles bronze at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

“But unfortunately, we have not been able to reproduce our best performances in majors like the Olympics or Worlds in the past.”

Hopes on Lalita and Sudha

Usha feels that one of the women 3000m steeple chasers could make the final.

“I don’t know about Lalita Babar and Sudha Singh’s recent form but generally, they tend to maintain it. So, one of them should enter the final,” said Usha, now a leading coach who will have two of her trainees Tintu Luka and Jisna Mathew at Rio. “Recently, Sudha did very well in the Diamond League (in Shanghai in May) and Lalita entered the final of the World Championship in Beijing last year. So, that offers us a lot of hope.”

Usha expects her own trainee, Asian 800m champion Tintu Luka to have a tough semifinal but has said that she is capable of entering the final.“The semifinal can be a lot tougher than the final, especially in events from the 100 to the 800m, because only two from each semifinal heat along with the two fastest losers can enter the final,” said Usha.

“It will all depend on the sort of semifinal Tintu gets and she will need a lot of luck too. But she is very confident this time and is capable of going below 1:59s.”

The men’s and women’s relay teams should also enter the final based on their recent form. “In an intense competition like the Olympics, they should be able to bring down their time by 1.5 seconds. If that happens, they can enter the final. I would say, their recent performances certainly have a touch of magic,” said Usha.

Athletics fans will be expecting a repeat of that magic in Rio.