Indian athletes face an acid test in the Asian Athletics Championship which has unfolded in Doha and the meet is a crucial one Indian athletes as good performances would open the entry door to the Olympics in Tokyo 2020. Two years ago, India dominated the Asian meet held in Bhubaneshwar and topped the medals tally winning 29 medals, which include 12 golds, five silvers and 12 bronzes.
Can India replicate that feat again in Doha this week?
It is a question that begs for answers. Assessing India’s chances at Doha, Ram Murali Krishna, the noted athletics historian and statistician, who spoke to 'The Bridge' expressed his confidence about another good show by Indian athletes..
Question: How well has the Indian athletes have prepared for the Asian Championship?
Answer: The Asian Championships being an important event scheduled in 2019, Indian athletes prepared well in the camps at Patiala, Bengaluru, and Coonoor.
Q: In your opinion, which are the events, where we stand to gain medals and who are the potential medal winners in both men and women’s section?
A: As the defending champion javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra opted out from Doha start-list due to injury, the major medal contender from India will be the reigning World junior champion Hima Das (400m). Apart from the individual event, she is also expected to lead the national relay quartet to podium finish at the Khalifa International Stadium. From the men’s side middle-distance runner Jinson Johnson, steeplechaser Avinash Sable and shot putter Tejinder Pal Singh Toor are looking to inflate the Indian medal tally. Asian Games heptathlon champion Swapna Barman will certainly reach the top spot in Doha.
(At the time of publishing this interview, India have already clinched five medals - two silver and three bronze medals. Read here.)
Q: What has been our medal tally in the last meet and do we stand to improve on it?
A: In the last edition at Bhubaneswar, two years ago, the Indian team secured the top spot with 29 medals consisting 12 gold, 5 silver and 12 bronze medals. However it will be difficult for the national squad to improve it this time mainly due to two reasons, viz., the Indians are not fielding a full team and many competing nations in 2019 (including hosts Qatar and the superpower China) are sending their top athletes to Doha as a “warm-up” for the World Championships to be held at the same venue later this year.
Q: Which are the most challenging events for Indians?
A: The women’s sprint relay and discus throw events are tougher for the Indians at Doha.
Q: Do you expect a Chinese domination in track and field events and what other countries, which can perform well in this meet?
A: Yes, the Chinese will be trying to regain their supremacy as their second string team finished second in Bhubaneswar-2017 with just 20 medals (8G, 7S, and 5B). Their domination in the Asian athletics scene is unquestionable for more than three decades. Hosts Qatar, teams from Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Japan, Chinese Taipei, and South Korea are the other countries to watch in Doha.
Q: This being a pre Olympic year, how important is the Asian meet for India athletes?
A: The Asian Championship is very important for contesting athletes, including Indians, as the finalists in Doha will get a chance to enter for next year’s Olympic Games at Tokyo based on their finishing order. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) recently introduced a new Ranking System in which an athlete will gather points that help him to secure top positions in the qualification race for 2020 (for example the Gold medalist in Doha will get 170 points while the eighth place finisher to get 80 points). These points will be added to individual event scores an athlete gained based on his/her performance during the qualifying period.
Q: Are the athletes and coaches getting enough support from the Union Ministry for sports and federation for training and foreign exposure?
A: Frankly speaking the Athletics Federation of India and the Indian athletes mainly depends on the budget of the Government for training, kit and travel to participate in various events like Asian or global Championships. They are getting adequate support from the Ministry of Sports.
Q: What are your suggestions for taking Indian athletes to higher level?A: Indian athletes are lacking enough international competitions in spite of high potential level among the young and upcoming athletes. Frequent trips to participate in elite international events at various stages will certainly help.