Athletics has been improving in India; can our youngsters cash in at the World U20 Championships?

The field of Athletics has been quite dormant in India. Sure, we have had champions in the past, such as Milkha Singh, Anju Bobby George, and PT Usha. Those days, however, are long gone.

However, much recently, there have been developments in the field of athletics which indicate that perhaps its best time is about to start.

Winds of Change?

Tejaswin Shankar is one such name driving this field forward. The youngster hails from Delhi and has been making a name for himself both nationally and internationally in High Jump. At just 19, Shankar is already the national record holder for High Jump in India, jumping a staggering 2.29m. Needless to say, big things are expected of Shankar.

Another athlete making a name for himself is Neeraj Chopra. Chopra’s Javelin throw exploits have won him medals left and right; most recently at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, where he took home the gold. Chopra also won the Gold at the 2016 IAAF World U20 Athletics Championships. He was the only medalist in a twenty-two member contingent.

Hima Das and Muhammad Anas have also been gaining traction in their pursuit of greatness, with Das even being touted as one of the favorites to win the World U20 Gold; but more on that later.

Also read: Hima Das the “one to beat” in IAAF World U20 Championships

The first Khelo India School Games also brought into the limelight some potential stars of the future. There were ones-to-watch at the tracks, with Delhi’s Nisar Ahmed and Maharashtra’s Karan Hegiste impressing in particular.

Many other young athletes impressed as well, signaling that athletics’ darkest times might be coming to an end.

India and the Championships

A new era begins with the World U20 Athletics Championships. The 2018 Championships will be held in Tampere, Finland at the Ratina Stadium and will run on from July 10 to July 15. Athletes from One Hundred and Fifty-six (156) countries will take part in this event, hoping to stand at the podium at the end of it.

India has sent one of the biggest contingents to the World U20 Athletics Championships this time around. A total of thirty-one athletes will be boarding the plane to Finland, nine more than the previous edition of the Championships.

Gold Contenders

The Indian contingent didn’t do well at the previous edition of the Championships when they were held in Poland in 2016. The entirety of the contingent could only muster up one medal, which came through Neeraj Chopra in Javelin Throw.

However, this time around, India has more than just a few medal contenders in their squad.

Three Indian athletes have managed to clock a time which would have won them the Gold medal two years ago in Poland. Most notable amongst them is Hima Das, who is perhaps India’s strongest chance at the gold. 

Das will be taking part in two events- 400m and 4x400m Relay. In 400m, the youngster has previously clocked a timing of 51.13 seconds, a time which would have ensured her of a Gold medal two years ago (2016 Gold medal timing: 51.32 seconds). Das is emerging as one of India’s best prospects in athletics and will look to solidify her position after the Championships.

However, Das’s biggest challenge comes from Sydney McLaughlin of the USA, who has clocked a time of 50.07 in 2018. Nevertheless, going into the competition Das should be confident of a podium finish, perhaps even the Gold.

The Assamese sprinter is also competing in the 4x400m relay, where she will team up with Jishna Matthew, Rachna, Ritika, and V Subha. They will have to better the German relay team’s record of 3:35.08, which is the fastest this year.

Moving on from 400m, Sreeshankar from the men’s team is another strong contender in the event of Long Jump. The youngster had to miss the Commonwealth Games due to an injury but is now back and raring to go. He has recorded a jump of 7.99m, which puts him just 0.01 short of the 2016 Gold medal finish, which was at 8m.

Even though Maikel Vidal of Cuba has recorded a jump of 8.12m in 2018, Sreeshankar should be able to break through amongst the medal contenders. 

Another good contender for a Gold medal is Ankit, who will be running in the 1500m event. Ankit’s best timing (3:47.09) puts him nearly one minute below the 2016 Gold medal mark (3:48.63). However, just as the other two athletes, Ankit also faces a tough challenge after Samuel Tefera of Ethiopia completed the run in 3:31.63 this year.

Full of Potential

The remaining athletes may not be the top contenders in their categories but will no doubt put up a strong fight.

Das’s partner in 4x400m and competitor in 400m, Jishna Matthew will also feel that she can break into the top three. Matthew is a good runner and has clocked a personal best timing of 52:65. However, a little more effort can see her do much better and possibly find herself on the podium.

K Kamalraj and S Lokesh may not be contenders in their events- Triple Jump and Long Jump, respectively- but can surely turn a few heads.

Nevertheless, if the Indian contingent has improved, so has the competition. The Indian youngsters will face a tough task in Finland and will have to be at their absolute best to bag a medal.

Future Effects

There is an ulterior motive here, rather than just winning medals- Future growth. Winning medals would no doubt help Indian athletics and athletes in the future. However, strong performances can also prove to be beneficial.

Indian athletics has been improving for the past few years, as indicated by the strength, both in volume and skill, of the latest U20 contingent. This is the right time to pour in more investment and create better infrastructure so as to turn these contenders into champions.

India has been long dormant in the field of athletics. Maybe, it is time that we start cashing in on the recent developments in the realm of track and field.