There was a tinge of positive expectation around Indian athletics at the beginning of the year especially after the performance of track & field contingent at the 2018 Asian Games. India won 20 medals including 8 gold and the performances of the likes of Hima Das & Neeraj Chopra among others raised hopes for a better future. 2019 however turned out to be a stern reality test. The long season began with Asian Championships in April and extended up to World Championships in October and the gulf between Indian athletes and top international athletes was pretty evident.
Avinash Mukund Sable ended 2018 on high at Open Nationals becoming the first Indian athlete to dip under 8:30.00 in the men’s 3000 meters Steeplechase. At Federation Cup Sable improved his own national record to 8:28.94 and qualified for the Doha World Championships. He followed it up with a silver medal at the Asian Athletics Championship.
It was at the Doha World Championships where Sable ran the two best races of his career. The armyman clocked 8:25.23 in the heats despite having fallen twice in the first kilometre and backed it up with a 8:21.37. This was the third time he had improved on his national record this year and it was enough to make him qualify for Tokyo Olympics. What makes Sable’ s achievements even more credible is that he choose to train and compete in India unlike a host of other athletes who was training in Europe.
Annu Rani in women’s Javelin Throw was an epitome of consistency and it was her consistency around 60-61 meters that resulted in her 8th place finish at the World Championships in Doha. Annu improved on her national record twice this year – 62.34 at Federation Cup and 62.43 in the qualifying round of World Championships. Annu competed in a host of big events like Diamond League and the World Challenge event in Ostrava and it was heartening to see her maintain her consistency when competing against the best throwers. Annu hasn’t yet qualified for the Tokyo Olympics but is placed at the 13th spot in the world rankings and a decent 2020 should see her make the cut through the ranking way.
MP Jabir had a consistent 2019 with a string of sub 50 second performances in 400 meters hurdles. Jabir bagged a bronze at Asian Championships with a personal best of 49.13 and made the semifinals at World Championships. Jabir is ranked 22nd in the world and can make the cut for Tokyo if he can carry the momentum into 2020. T Gopi in men’s marathon had a credible year with a personal best clocking of 2:13:39 at Seoul Marathon and an impressive 21st place finish in World Championships. Among the quarter-milers VK Vismaya and Nirmal Noah Tom showed marked improvement over the course of 2019 and have become the leading runners of the pack.
2019 also witnessed inconsistency in performances from several of the top Indian athletes and this doesn’t augur well going into the Olympics year. Shivpal Singh came into prominence with a throw of 86.23 meters at the Asian Athletics Championships in April but failed to cross 82 meters in the European events in build-up to the World Championships. Shivpal could only manage a best throw of 78.97 meters in Doha but then rounded into form with a 83.33 throw in military Games and a 84.16 throw at the recently concluded SAF Games.
Dutee Chand clocked 11.28 and 11.26 at the Asian Championships in April, won the University Games gold in a time of 11.32 and set a national record of 11.22 at Open Nationals in Ranchi in October. At the World Championships in Doha, however, she finished 7th in her heat with a modest timing of 11.48. Tajinder Singh Toor too failed to get close to 20.75 meters he threw at Asian Games last year but suddenly found form at Open Nationals with a big 20.92 meters throw. Muhammed Anas Yahiya improved his own national record to 45.21 in July but his performance at World Championships was below par.
Poor Injury Management
Injury management of athletes by the federation also continued to be under the scanner throughout the year. The manner in which AFI was tight-lipped about the injuries of the quarter-milers also raised more than a few questions. Hima Das pulled out of Asian Championships but showed signs of recovery when she clocked encouraging time in low key races in Czech Republic and Poland in July.
However, her performance dipped in events leading up to World Championships and she was dropped as she hadn’t completely recovered. Hima is currently part of the quarter-milers camp in Thiruvananthapuram but there is a little update on the status of her back injury.
The injuries of Rajiv Arokia and Dharun Ayyaswamy too could have been handled better and the former even lamented on the poor medical facilities in Spala (base of the Indian contingent in Poland). Saritaben Gaikwad too suffered an injury while training in Europe and was subsequently dropped from the Indian team for World Championships but there is little information known about her ‘mysterious’ injury.
Questions Over Poland – Czech Republic Camp
The Poland – Czech Republic camp of the Indian quarter-milers was another taking point across the year. It is no secret that AFI invests heavily on its 400 meters runners but the Indian contingent only participated in category E and F events where there was hardly any competition for them and in a lot of cases they often competed among themselves. There were a lot of questions on the usefulness of such a camp as the Indian athletes could have got much tougher competition from fellow Indian athletes had they taken part in Indian Grand Prix and the inter-states.
The next few months will be extremely crucial for the Indian athletes as they aim to qualify for theTokyo Olympics. As of now Avinash Sable, KT Irfan and the mixed 4*400 relay team have made the cut for Tokyo. Our athletes will now be seen in action at the Indian Grand Prix events in March and the Federation Cup in April.