From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.33 :: NO.46 :: Nov. 18, 2010
The great Indian hope... Tintu Luka (above), Renjith Maheswary (below) , Saurabh Vij (bottom).
A dozen medals in the Commonwealth Games were beyond the dream of the most optimistic of Indian athletics observers. That achievement has at the same time set off several debates, about the quality of the field and the reasons for the success. With the focus now shifting to the Asian Games, it is natural only to look at the chances of the Indian athletes in Guangzhou.
In the normal course, success at the Commonwealth Games should translate into bigger success at the Asian Games. We have to remember, never before had the country won more than two athletics medals in one edition of the CWG. As we approach the Asian Games this time, such calculations might, however, have little relevance.
It looks extremely doubtful that the Indian athletes would be able to maintain the levels of their performance or for that matter such levels would be sufficient to earn them an unprecedented number of medals in Guangzhou. There could of course be a few exceptions in events where the Indians have performed at the highest level to be clubbed with the best in the continent, like for example triple jump (Renjith Maheswary) or the women's longer relay.
Indian athletes won just one gold medal each in the last Asian Games in Doha and the last Asian Championships in Guangzhou in 2009. After a phenomenal collection of seven gold medals in the Busan Games in 2002, thanks largely to the “scientific support” given by the experts from ex-Soviet countries, there had been a decline in Indian athletics.
If the euphoric mood pervading post-CWG has to continue, then the athletes should perform to their potential in Guangzhou also. There would be little point in complaining about not being able to achieve a “second peak” or being distracted by felicitation functions.
Going into the Guangzhou Games, India tops the season's Asian lists in five events, men's triple jump (Renjith Maheswary, 17.07m) and shot put (Saurabh Vij, 20.65m) and women's 400m (Mandeep Kaur, 52.13s), 800m (Tintu Luka, 1:59.17) and 4x400m relay (3:27.77).
Renjith is yet to win a big title, though with a National record 17.07m, his bronze-winning mark at the CWG, he is the sole member of the 17-metre club in Asia this season. He can expect a tough fight from Chinese Li Yanxi, continental record holder, and his 19-year-old team-mate Cao Shuo, Kazakh Roman Valiyev and Korean Kim Duk-Hyung, all of them above 16.85m this season.
Vij has not been able to live up to expectations after that stunning 20.65m in the Delhi State meet in July. He had a sixth place finish in the CWG with 18.60m.
Unless Mandeep Kaur clocks above 53 seconds, which is a possibility, she should have a reasonable chance of getting into the top two in the women's 400 metres, with Manjeet Kaur (season best 52.75s) possibly in close pursuit.
Asian champion Asami Chiba (nee Tanno) of Japan and defending champion Olga Tereshkova of Kazakhstan are not really in any great form this season. Chinese Tang Xiaoyin and Chen Lin could be serious contenders while Sri Lankan Chandrika Subhashini could be expected to sneak in for a medal in the 400 metres.
The women's longer relay team, having performed beyond expectations by clocking 3:27.77 in the CWG, should be expected to repeat the feat while defending its title. Since the team has not had the chance to make a third trip to Ukraine this season, following the CWG, the possibility of a dip in performance of a couple of runners cannot be ruled out, in which case China or Kazakhstan might come in strongly.
Surprisingly, it is mostly from among those individual athletes who failed to win a medal in the Commonwealth Games that India can hope to achieve better results in Guangzhou.
For example, shot putter Om Prakash Singh. The Asian champion had a slump in Delhi and yet he could be expected to put up a fight in the Asian Games against formidable opposition. Defending champion, Saudi Arabian Sultan Abdulmajeed Al Hebshi, Asian record holder (21.13m) and season leader (20.29m), has hit a downward graph (17.68m in the Continental Cup in Split in September), while Chinese Zhang Jun could be a bigger threat.
Tintu Luka, according to popular perception, went too fast at the beginning and thus lost any chance of winning a medal in the 800 metres in the Commonwealth Games. Coach P. T. Usha, however, did not agree with this assessment.
If Maryam Yusuf Jamal is going to be in Guangzhou and decides to defend her titles in both 800m and 1500m, Luka will find it difficult to bring home the gold on her Asian Games debut. If the Bahraini skips the 800 and just concentrates on the 1500m where she is the world champion, then also Luka will need to run a good, tactical race to beat the challenge from Kazakh Margarita Matsko, Japanese Ruriko Kubo and Chinese Zhang Liqiu. She should also remember not to make the kind of mistakes she made in Delhi.
From among the others in the 71-member Indian team, 400m hurdler Joseph Abraham could be a medal contender, up against the tough Japanese duo of defending champion and season leader Kenji Narisako (49.01s) and Naohiro Kawakita, plus Chinese Meng Yan.
The other could be discus thrower Vikas Gowda (season best 63.69 in CWG), who will have to take on the Iranian duo of Ehsan Hadadi (Asian record holder at 69.32m, season leader at 68.45m) and Mohammad Samimi, who has a season best 65.41m.
Among women, middle distance runner O. P. Jaisha, who is in good form in the steeplechase, too, and woman long jumpers M. A. Prajusha and Mayookha Johny, who may not have an equal chance in triple jump, may figure among the medals.
Discus throwers Krishna Poonia (SB 63.69m) and Harwant Kaur (60.66m), whosoever between the two manages to maintain the CWG form to challenge the Chinese, Song Aimin (SB 63.62m) and Li Yanfeng (SB 65.83m),who are a cut above the rest, should also be hoping to add to the Indian kitty.
Surprisingly, despite their average form, heptathletes Pramila Aiyappa and Susmits Singh Roy could have some chance of a medal. The overall Asian standards this season have been very low in heptathlon with 5670 being the best score.
It will be a huge surprise if the Indians were to repeat their sprint relay feats of CWG. In the longer relays, the women should once again start favourites while the men may struggle.
The Chinese, as usual, look formidable, though it would be unrealistic to target its awesome collection at the Beijing Asian Games 20 years ago. Then, China had won 29 gold medals including 18 of the 19 women's titles at stake in athletics.
At the last Asian Championships in Guangzhou in 2009, China had won 18 gold medals. It could be gunning for a similar tally this time too. Almost all top athletes of the continent including world champions Youssef Saad Kamel (1500m) and Maryam Jamal (1500m) and women's marathon champion Bai Xue of China will be seen in action.
Missing, however, could be former Olympic hammer throw champion Koji Murofushi of Japan and world steeplechase record holder and former world champion Saif Saeed Shaheen of Qatar.
It would be an emotional moment for Liu Xiang, former Olympic and world champion and former 110m world record holder, to perform in front of home fans. After his tearful exit from the Beijing Olympics because of an injury, he won effortlessly in front of thousands of adoring fans in the Asian Championships at the Guangdong Olympic Stadium last year.
Liu Xiang suffered his first defeat to his team-mate Shi Dongpeng in the only competition that he entered this season, the Shanghai Diamond League meeting. His readiness for this meet could thus be suspect. More than anyone else, the Chinese fans would once again hope for Liu Xiang to win.
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