A severely depleted Indian contingent is unlikely to repeat its unprecedented top-of-the-table finish in the last edition but is still expected to win a substantial number of medals when the Asian Athletics Championships begins here on Sunday.
India had finished on top of the table with a record-breaking haul of 29 medals (12 gold, 5 silver, 12 bronze) in the 2017 Championships held in Bhubaneswar. China had finished second with 20 medals.
But this time, the 42-member Indian team is not expected to achieve that kind of a success with several athletes, including star javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, missing out of the continental flagship event due to various reasons, including injuries.
The biggest name in Indian athletics, Neeraj has suffered an elbow sprain during practice in Patiala and he is not defending the title he had won in 2017. National record holders Dharun Ayyasamy (men’s 400m Hurdles), M Sreeshankar (men’s long jump) and Asian Games 800m gold medallist Manjit Singh were also not named in the team due to injuries.
Triple jumper Arpinder Singh, training in the USA, did just 16.34m in the Federation Cup (against qualification standard of 16.50m) and later said he’s focusing on the World Championships to be held at the same venue in September-October.
Veteran Sudha Singh, who won a gold in the women’s 3000m steeplechase in 2017, was named in the team despite missing the Federation Cup -- which served as the qualifying event -- as well as the confirmatory trials, but the Sports Ministry has refused to clear her name.
Her tickets to Doha were booked and the Athletics Federation of India made a request to clear her name but the Sports Ministry did not budge.
"The Sports Ministry has refused to clear her name despite the AFI making another request," a well-placed source told PTI on condition of anonymity.
Another athlete who won two gold in 2017, Govindan Lakshman (men’s 5000m and 1000m) was not picked as he could not finish on the podium in the Federation Cup.
The number of medals as well as gold count is certain to come down from the last edition. This will also be a climb down from the high at the Jakarta Asian Games last year, when the country won 19 medals including seven gold.
The first day on Sunday will decide eight gold medals and from the Indian perspective the women’s 400m final will be the most anticipated one. Sprint sensation Hima Das will be running in the preliminary round in the morning while the final will be held in the evening.
Bahrain’s Salwa Naser will start as the overwhelming favourite to take the gold in the women’s quartermile event. She had beaten Hima comfortably in the Asian Games 400m final. She was second in world lists last year (49.08s).
This Asian Championships is crucial as the gold medallist gets the automatic qualification for the World Championships. This competition is also an ideal platform to accumulate ranking points if an athlete fails to achieve the stiff entry standards prescribed by the international federation.
Jinson Johnson (1500m), Tejinder Pal Singh Toor (men’s shot put) and women’s 4x400m relay team could be considered as gold medal contenders. National record holder quartermiler Muhammed Anas and his women’s counterpart Hima Das are not expected to win gold but can bag a medal.
Anas was not at his best during the Federation Cup last month as he was running a few months after suffering a leg injury in an accident. Hima has not been at her best after she took a break to prepare for her exams before coming back to win the Federation Cup with a 52.88 seconds.
No one has crossed 20.0m in the shot put in Asia this season except Tejinder. That makes the Asian Games champion the favourite to take the gold.
Dutee, a double silver winner at the Jakarta Asian Games, is also a medal contender in women’s 100m. She will be up against the likes of Wei Yongli of China and Kazakhstan’s Olga Saffronikova, who had won a silver in 2017. Dutee had won a bronze in 2017.