Commonwealth Games 2018: All eyes on Neeraj Chopra to set field ablaze
Indian athletes’ performance in the recently concluded Federation Cup in Patiala from March 5-8 has given the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) hope of at least six medals at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
If AFI’s assessment comes true, it will be a 100% increase in the number of medals from the previous edition at Glasgow. The athletics body’s biggest hope this time is junior world champion in javelin throw Neeraj Chopra, who has consistently crossed the 80m mark this season.
With a season’s best of 85.94m, Chopra stands a good chance of a podium finish, feels chief national coach Bahadur Singh.“If one takes into account the results of the previous two editions, athletes crossing the 80m have won medals. In 2014, Kenya’s Julius Yego won with a throw of 83.87m, while Australia’s Jarrod Bannister, who died in February this year, won with a throw of 81.71m in 2010,” he said.
With US-based Tejaswin Shankar raising the bar to 2.28m in high jump — a national record — he too is in contention for a medal, feels Singh. “In the past two editions, the top three positions were in the 2.25-2.32m range,” he said. But the job won’t be easy for Shankar as five athletes have crossed the 2.28m mark in the buildup to the Commonwealth Games.
The focus will also be on women’s long jump and discus throw. There are high hopes from Seema Punia in discus. “Her showing since the 2006 Commonwealth Games and her form — she is consistently throwing 61-plus metres — is a good indicator,” said the coach.
Then, there are a few youngsters such as quarter-miler Hima Das and 5,000m and 10,000m specialist L Suriya, who want to prove a point. Hima, the 17-year-old from Assam, recently clocked 51.97 seconds in 400m. “If she repeats her performance, she has a bright chance of reaching the final,” said Radhakrishnan Nair, a coach associated with the team.
Distance runner from Tamil Nadu, Suriya had sprung a surprise by qualifying in 10,000m in the Federation Cup. She, though, will face a tough challenge from the East Africans, who have traditionally dominated the Games.
One doesn’t know the reason for the federation’s optimism but records indicate that barring an odd performance, top athletes have failed to replicate their home performance in major competitions, including the Rio Olympic Games.
Gold Coast-bound Asian Games silver medallist in 20km race walk, Khushbir Kaur, hasn’t lived up to her potential since the 2014 Incheon Games, failing to her repeat her personal best of 1:33.37. Triple jumper Arpinder Singh, bronze medallist in 2014 Glasgow, too has been erratic. He barely managed to achieve the CWG-qualifying mark of 16.60m, his best this season being 16.61m.
The performance of javelin thrower Vipin Kasana, too, has been unsteady. The performance of relay teams (4x400m), especially the men’s quartet, hasn’t been heartening abroad.
Athletes from PT Usha’s stable — Tintu Luka (800m) and Jisna Mathew (400m) — did not compete in the Federation Cup, the selection event for the Commonwealth Games.
AFI president Adille Sumariwala said, “Usha is focusing on the Asian Games. Since the Commonwealth Games are scheduled too early in the season, she has decided to focus on the Asian Games in August.”
Even Belarus distance expert Nikolai Snesarev hasn’t shown interest in the Commonwealth Games. None of his trainees, including Beant Singh (800m) and Lalita Babar (steeplechase), has qualified for Gold Coast. “The federation respects the decision of the coaches,” said Sumariwala.