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India expect women to deliver in Doha

Long-jumper Anju Bobby George leads a pack of Indian women athletes at the Asian Games attempting to ward off the Chinese challenge in the continent's showpiece event.

india Updated: Dec 01, 2006 20:29 IST

Long-jumper Anju Bobby George leads a pack of Indian women athletes at the Asian Games attempting to ward off the Chinese challenge in the continent's showpiece event.

The Indian women did a commendable job in the 2002 Busan Asian Games when they upstaged their compatriots in the men's section, winning 12 of the 17 medals that included six golds.

The women's dominance is not new to Indian athletics as irrepressible sprinter and hurdler PT Usha made waves in the international arena after bursting on to the scene in the 1980s.

Usha, nicknamed as "Payyoli Express" after her home town in southern state Kerala, provided a tremendous boost to women's athletics in the country by her extraordinary exploits, especially in Asia.

She won five golds at the 1985 Asian Track and Field Championships in Jakarta and four more at the 1986 Seoul Asiad, a feat unparalled in the history of these Games.

Those were the times when the supposedly unglamorous sport like athletics gripped people's imagination in cricket-crazy India and Usha was as big a star as any Test cricketer.

India may not have an athlete of Usha's calibre now, but her deeds have inspired many women to continue the trend. Anju is the latest to come from Usha's state famous for producing outstanding athletes.

Anju has been in the limelight since winning the bronze at the 2003 World Athletics Championships in Paris, the only Indian to win a medal at a world meet.

She added another feather to her cap when she claimed the gold at the Busan Asiad, raising fans' expectations in the process. Injuries may have prevented her from giving her best in recent times, but she remains the best bet.

Anju returned in August after a three-month layoff following a right ankle injury, winning gold with a 6.42-metre effort at the South Asian Games in Colombo. She was below her best of 6.83, but promised to do better.

"I know where I stand now," she said in Colombo. "This competition was a test for me and the injury was playing on my mind. I have been regularly going past 6.80 in training and so touching seven metres will be my aim."

The other medal prospects in the women's section are Pinki Paramanik (400m and 800m), S. Shanthi (800m), Sinimole Paulose (1500m) and the 4x400-metre relay squad.

Paramanik, who won the title at Colombo, is not only a force to reckon with in the 400 metres but also a key member of the formidable relay team which is expected to repeat its Busan gold-winning performance.

She has already cornered glory in the Asian Grand Prix circuit at Bangkok, Banglaore and Pune this year, winning five golds and a silver.

India's fortunes in the men's section have been steadily nose-diving in recent years and experts believe it will be an achievement of sorts if they match their overall medals tally of the last Asian Games when they grabbed 17 medals.

Shot-putter Bahadur Singh was the lone gold-medallist at Busan and the picture does not look rosy this time also in the men's section.

Only throwers Navpreet Singh (shot put) and US-based Vikas Gowda (discus and shot put) raise hopes of medals at Doha following their impressive performances in recent times.

Navpreet climbed to the top in the season's lists in Asia for a brief spell in March this year following his throw of 19.84 metres at the Asian Grand Prix meet in southern city of Bangalore.

India hope their athletes peak at the right time, especially after training stints in Ukraine, Italy and, lately, Muscat.

First Published: Dec 01, 2006 20:29 IST