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Commonwealth Games 2018: All eyes on Neeraj Chopra to set field ablaze

The Athletics Federation of India’s biggest hope in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018 this time is junior world champion in javelin throw Neeraj Chopra, who has consistently crossed the 80m mark this season.

other sports Updated: Apr 03, 2018 20:38 IST
Navneet Singh
Navneet Singh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Commonwealth Games 2018,Gold Coast Commonwealth Games,Athletics Federation of India
Neeraj Chopra, world junior javelin champ’s season best makes him medal favourite(PTI)

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.

INDIA AT CWG
India have taken part in 16 editions but fielded athletics teams in only 12 of them. Till date, India have won only 25 medals, including three gold. It was only since 2002 that India began winning multiple medals in athletics at CWG, the best at Delhi 2010 with 12. A look at how India have fared over the years
◼ Did not take part in CWG | ◼ No representation in athletics | ◼ Took part in athletics
◼ 1930: Did not take part in CWG
◼ 1934: This was the first time India took part in the Games. In athletics, Indian participants competed in 10 disciplines but failed to bag a medal.
◼ 1938: No representation in athletics
◼ 1942: World War
◼ 1946: World War
◼ 1950: Did not take part in CWG
◼ 1954: Participated in five disciplines but failed to clinch a medal.
◼ 1958: It was legendary sprinter Milkha Singh who won India their first gold in athletics. Participating in the 440-yard race, Milkha clocked 46.6s to take gold ahead of South African Malcom Clive Spence.
◼ 1960: Did not take part in CWG
◼ 1966: Praveen Kumar won India silver in hammer throw (60.13m) to finish ahead of Pakistan’s Muhammed Iqbal (59.57m) but behind England’s Howard Payne (61.98m).
◼ 1970: Mohinder Singh Gill clinched bronze as he leapt 15.90m in triple jump to bag India’s only medal in athletics at Edinburgh.
◼ 1974: Mohinder Singh Gill yet again brought India’s lone medal in athletics, although he improved to clinch silver this time.
◼ 1978: India had representation in as many as
nine disciplines in athletics but could bag only a bronze with long jumper Suresh Babu leaping 7.94m to finish third.
◼ 1982: Participated in three disciplines but failed to clinch a medal.
◼ 1986: Did not take part in CWG
◼ 1990: No representation in athletics
◼ 1994: No representation in athletics
◼ 1998: No representation in athletics
◼ 2002: For the first time, India bagged two medals in athletics although they participated in just three disciplines. Anju Bobby George won bronze in long jump and Neelam J Singh won silver in discus.
◼ 2006: India won three medals in athletics — Seema Punia bagging silver in discus, Ranjith Kumar Jayaseelan winning bronze in discus para sport and the women’s 4X400m relay team finishing second clocking 3:29.57 secs.
◼ 2010: Hosts India bagged 12 medals in athletics with the 4X400m women’s relay team and Krishna Poonia clinching gold to ensure multiple gold for the first time. India also bagged three silver.
◼ 2014: India bagged three medals — Vikas Gowda and Seema Punia clinching gold and silver in discus throw while Arpinder Singh bagging bronze in men’s triple jump.
Graphics: HITESH MATHUR

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

First Published: Apr 03, 2018 08:49 IST