Neeraj Chopra continued to conjure up history-scripting performances, inspiring the likes of Avinash Sable and Murali Sreeshankar in their quest for global success, but the age-old dope menace raised its ugly head again and shamed the nation at the global stage.
At least six top Indian athletes were caught for using banned drugs and the run-up to the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, as usual, was marred by a series of dope positive cases.
The legendary long jumper Anju Bobby George, also senior vice president of the Athletics Federation of India, dropped a bombshell, saying that athletes who trained abroad brought back banned drugs for distribution among some of their colleagues.
The 24-year-old Chopra, the poster-boy of Indian athletics, continued his exploits after his historic javelin throw gold in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
He won a silver in the World Championships in the USA in July to become only the second Indian after Anju — who won a bronze in 2003 Paris edition — to win a medal at the showpiece.
In September, he became the Diamond League champion by winning the Finals of the prestigious meeting series, adding another ‘first’ to his name.
Chopra, however, could not defend his Commonwealth Games gold at Birmingham due to the “minor" groin injury he sustained during the World Championships.
It was another eventful year for Chopra but he could not breach the 90m mark. He came agonisingly close with his 89.94m throw when he finished second in the Stockholm leg of the prestigious Diamond League.
Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem did the unthinkable as he beat world champion Anderson Peters with a monster throw of 90.18m for the CWG gold, thereby becoming the second Asian after Chao-Tsun Cheng of Chinese Taipei to enter the exclusive 90m club.
In the absence of Chopra, it was left to steeplechaser Sable and long jumper Sreeshankar to lead the Indian challenge in the CWG where the competition is almost world level in some events. They did admirably well by winning a silver each in historic feats.
Sreeshankar missed the gold by a whisker while Sable ended the hegemony of the Kenyans who have won all the three medals in men’s 3000m steeplechase event since the 1998 CWG.
But the most remarkable was the 1-2 finish by Eldhose Paul and Abdulla Aboobacker in the men’s triple jump which helped India achieve its second-best medal haul after the 2010 Delhi CWG with one gold, four silver and three bronze.
High jumper Tejaswin Shankar who made it to the Indian CWG team after a Delhi High Court order also won a bronze.
Other medal winners were Annu Rani (bronze in women’s javelin throw), Priyanka Goswami (silver in women’s 10,000m race walk) and Sandeep Kumar (bronze in men’s 10,000m race walk).
India also won three medals in the U-20 World Championships in Colombia with quartermiler Rupal Chaudhary, a farmer’s daughter hailing from Meerut district in Uttar Pradesh, winning two medals.
Even as India emerges as a force to reckon with at the global athletics scene, a series of high profile dope positive cases took the sheen off the impressive performance on the field.
Kamalpreet Kaur, who had finished sixth in the women’s discus throw final in Tokyo Olympics after a drastic improvement in her personal best last year, tested positive for a steroid and the Athletics Integrity Unit handed her a three-year ban till March 2025.
This was followed by Olympian javelin thrower Shivpal Singh being banned for four years till 2025 after he tested positive for steroid Metandieonone in October 2021.
Just before the World Championships and the CWG, came the news of dope positive cases of top sprinter Sekar Danalaxmi and Aishwarya Babu, who had created a triple jump national record during the National Inter-State Championships in June.
Quarter-miler MV Jilna was first named in the CWG team and was later quietly withdrawn after testing positive for a banned drug.
Veteran quartermiler and Arjuna awardee MR Poovamma also joined the ‘Hall of Shame’ of dope-flunked athletes with the Anti-Doping Appeal Panel of the NADA handing her a two-year suspension for testing positive for stimulant methylhexaneamine last year.
Discus thrower Navjeet Kaur Dhillon was the latest top athlete to be caught in the dope net.
A few legends of athletics like Praveen Sobti, who played the character of ‘Bheema’ in blockbuster TV serial ‘Mahabharat’ serial and medal winner in both Asian Games and CWG, breathed his last in the year gone by.
India’s ‘golden girl’ PT Usha, who set the track on fire in the national and continental level in the 1980s besides missing an Olympic medal by a whisker in 1984, was elected unopposed as president of Indian Olympic Association.
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