Neeraj Chopra lone hope for India in World Athletics Championships
print King Usain Bolt's retirement will mark the end of an era in athletics but no momentous beginning is expected for the Indians when they compete in the IAAF World Championships beginning here tomorrow.
The 25 Indian athletes taking part in the showpiece event are not expected to make much of an impact, barring an outside chance of a medal from world junior record holder javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra.
Everything depends on this 19-year-old Haryana athlete's performance on August 10 and 12, qualification round and finals on whether India manages to put an end to the medal drought since 2003.
For a country which has taken part in every championship since the first one in 1983, legendary long jumper Anju Bobby George's bronze in Paris 2003 has been the lone medal at this global stage.
The historic topping of the medal tally by the Indian athletes in the recent Asian Championships in Bhubaneswar is laudable but the success at the continental event will have no bearing at this global showpiece event.
The competition at the Asian Championships was at best mediocre with several top athletes from China, Japan, Qatar and Bahrain skipping it.
Seen in this light, the controversy surrounding the selection of the Indian squad for the World Championships, triggered by P U Chitra, without commenting on who's is right or wrong, was not only ironic but also bizarre.
A 16-member Indian team had taken part in Beijing in 2015 and returned with three final round appearances through Inderjeet Singh (men's shot put), Vikas Gowda (men's discus throw) and Lalita Babar (women's heptathlon).
This time it a whole new bunch of athletes, except for women's 20km race walker Khushbir Kaur and relay runners M R Poovamma, Jisna Mathew and Anu Raghavan.
Sadly with just a medal to boast of at the World Championships in India's athletics history, reaching the final round was counted as an achievement.
There will be no Indian in action on an opening day tomorrow with Asian champion Govindan Lakshmana not competing in 1000m final. He has not qualified for the event despite winning a gold in Bhubaneswar.
The first Indian event will be heptathlon 100m hurdles on August 5, in which Swapana Barman will represent the country, followed by men's 400m heats to be competed by Muhammed Anas.
The best bet for India is young Neeraj, whose season's best of 85.63m puts him at 14th in the IAAF rankings. He has a personal best of 86.48m, which he did while setting a junior world record last year. However, he needs to improve at least a couple of meters more than his personal best to be in contention for a medal.
Two javelin throwers -- Johannes Vetter and reigning Olympic and world champion Thomas Rohler -- have crossed the 90m mark this year, while eight athletes have gone beyond 87.64m, the mark which the bronze winner in Beijing had thrown.
The Indian has three 85m throws this season and his two Diamond League appearances in Paris and Monaca last month -- where he had finished fifth and seventh respectively -- should have boosted his confidence after rubbing shoulders with some of the best in the world.
Apart from Neeraj, there is virtually no chance for any Indian to be even at a striking distance of a medal.
Men's quarter miler Anas can hope for reaching the semifinals this time, with his national record of 45.32 seconds showing promise. Sixteen runners in the London field have cracked 45 seconds this season and it would not be easy for the Indian.
In women's 400m, Nirmala Sheoran is ranked 2nd in IAAF charts with her season's best of 51.28 seconds. She also does not have any chance of going beyond semifinals, if at all she is able to get past the heats.
Siddhanth Thingalaya, in men's high hurdles, has been inconsistent despite showing a lot of promise. He clinched the London berth with a national record of 13.48 seconds but finished fifth at the Asian championships with a below-par 13.72.
In men's 5000m, Lakshmanan, who won a distance double at Asian Championships, has a personal best of 13:36.62. It is unlikely that he goes past the preliminary round.
Women javelin thrower Annu Rani clinched the World Championships berth with a throw of 61.86 metres at the Federation Cup in Patiala in June against the standard of 61.40 and it would be a surprise if she makes it to the final round.
A late inclusion in the Indian team through the quota entry rule of the IAAF, sprinter Dutee Chand has not been up to the mark. Since her 11.30 seconds effort in New Delhi in May, which ultimately took her to London despite failing to touch 11.26 qualifying standard, she has not been able to reach near that mark in the subsequent events. Dutee will need something special if she has to reach the semifinals.
Three Indian men (KT Irfan, Devender Singh and Ganapathi Krishnan) and one woman (Khushbir Kaur) are competing in the respective 20km race walk categories. They can hope for a top-15 or top-20 finish. The men and women marathoners -- T Gopi and Monika Athare -- are nowhere near the top timings in the world and they can at best hope to come among the top-25.
The 4x400 metres relay teams have not done that well as compared to last year and it would be an achievement for them if they can run in the finals.