Race for supremacy

India seek to re-establish itself as Asian power

Pune: Nothing much to show for at the international scene for the past few years, India will seek to re-establish itself as a continental power in athletics when the 20th Asian Athletics Championships begins today.

Race for supremacy

With a record participation of 577 athletes from 43 countries out of 45 members in the Asian Athletics Association — the highest ever in the history of the championships — India is looking to regain some of the lost ground in the five-day flagship event of the AAA, to be held at the Shiv Chhatrapati Stadium at Balewadi.

The biggest ever gathering of Asian track and field athletes include London Olympics bronze medallist high jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar, former 1500m world champion and Olympic medallist Mariyam Jamal of Bahrain and India’s Sudha Singh and Vikas Gowda.

India is being represented by a record 107 athletes as it has the luxury of naming three participants in each of the 42 events (21 each for men and women). The event also assumes significance as the winners will get direct entry for the World Championships to be held in Moscow in August.

After an impressive show in 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, the country has nothing to show at the international level. Rather, it achieved the dubious distinction of being the top country in the world in doping.

But with the Asian showpiece event coming to the country for the second time after 1989 in New Delhi, the Indians are looking for rich haul of medals with an aim of finishing second or third. The country is expecting around five gold and 15 medals in total.

India, an Asian athletics power in the 1980s, has seen gradual decline and has not been able to win more than a gold medal in the last two editions in 2009 and 2011, respectively. The country had finished second on six occasions out of the 19 editions so far with the best performance being in 1985 in Jakarta where the Indians, led by PT Usha’s five gold-medal haul, won 22 medals, including 10 gold to finish second behind China in the medal’s tally.

Vikas Gowda (men’s discus), Sudha Singh (women’s 3000m steeplechase), M R Poovamma (women’s 400m), Kumaravel Prem Kumar (men’s long jump), Tintu Luka (women’s 800m), Renjith Maheswary (men’s triple jump) and Krishna Poonia (women’s discus) are gold medal prospects, while the likes of Mayookha Johny (women’s long jump and triple jump) and Arpinder Singh (men’s triple jump) are among other medal prospects.

Gowda is the top performer of the season among the participants with Iran’s 2012 London Olympic silver medallist Ehsan Hadadi deciding to skip the event in view of the Moscow World Championships in August.

In women’s 3000m steeplechase, Sudha Singh is the clear favourite after her 9:45.60 effort in the National Inter-State Championships in Chennai early last month.

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