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A 43-member Indian contingent has travelled to Doha to take part in the 23rd Asian Athletics Championship, an event that will test Khalifa International Stadium's facilities before the IAAF World Championship are held at this very venue in late September. Despite missing some big names like Neeraj Chopra and Dharun Ayyasamy, the Indian contingent will look to impress with their performances as they lock horn with some of the best in the continent.
Why the Asian Athletics Championship is importantThe continental event offers Indian athletes an opportunity to compete against some of the best in the continent and achieve entry standard for the World Championships to be held in Doha. Majority of the Indian athletes don't get to participate in a lot of quality meets and so it is important that make the best use of this opportunity. Moreover the Asian Athletics Championship is an extremely important event as the winner of individual event directly gains a spot at the World Championship irrespective of whether their performance has met the entry standard or not (in some events like - 3000m steeplechase, 10000m and field events this is subject to approval from technical delegates). The qualification for Tokyo 2020 can be achieved in two ways - either by achieving entry standards or through the world rankings that will be calculated for the period 1 May 2019 - 29 June 2020. However the performance in last continental championships is eligible to be counted towards the World Rankings that will determine the qualification for Tokyo 2020. With extremely tough entry standards being set by the IAAF for Olympics, the Indian athletes will have to rely on World Rankings to make the cut and this makes the Asian Athletics Championship extremely important. The events are graded into eight levels and rankings point are assigned as per the level and the continental championships carry more points that National Championships and national meets where most Indian athletes take part. Hence a good performance on Doha can help the athletes along way as far as World Rankings are concerned.
A look at the Indian contingentDutee Chand is the only Indian representative across both genders in the 100m and 200m. The 2018 Asian Games silver medalist will have in her sights the World Championships qualification mark of 11.24 and 23.02 and she will have to run close to her personal bests to achieve those. 400m is one event among short distance where India has had a lot of success in recent past and that trend could continue in Doha. Rajiv Arokia and Mohammed Anas Yahiya clocked 45.73 and 45.89 respectively at the Federation Cup and will look to meet the entry standard of 45.30 and vie for medals for which they will face stiff competition from runners from the likes Abdalelah Haroun and Ali Khamis. If Hima Das was in the kind of form she was in 2018, a qualification mark of 51.80 would have been easy for her but she missed six week of training due to her exams and looked jaded in her 52.88 clocking in Patiala. The experienced MR Poovamma is the other Indian in the fray. Salwa Naser of Bahrain starts as an overwhelming favourite in this event. Jinson Johnson has a busy schedule as he will take part in both 800m and 1500m and should he go the distance in both the events, he will have 5 races in 4 days. Jinson will be accompanied by 2017 gold medalist Ajay Kumar Saroj in 1500m and Mohammad Afsal in the 800m. Middle distance races are often tactical affairs and Indian fans can certainly expect a medal or two in these events specially from Jinson who won gold and silver in 1500m and 800m respectively at Asian Games. In the women side Gomathi Marimuthu and Twinkle Choudhary will compete in 800m while Asian Games bronze medalist P U Chitra and Lili Das will take part in 1500m. Abhishek Pal, Gavit Murli Kumar and Sanjivani Jadhav will run the 5000/10000m double. In 400m hurdles the focus will be on MP Jabir who ran a personal best of 49.53 in the Federation Cup. Jabir has been the second best in the country behind Dharun Ayyasamy and will look to improve on his timing when he comes up against the legendary Abderrahman Samba of Qatar. Saritaben Gayakwad & Arpitha will represent India on the women side. Avinash Sable who already a World Championship place along with Shankar Lal Swami will take part in 3000m steeplechase while Sudha Singh' s participation depends on clearance from the ministry. Sudha Singh didn't take part in the Federation Cup due to an illness and hence hasn't been cleared yet. Parul Choudhary too will has compete in 3000m Steeplechase in addition to the 5000m. The track will also see India take part in the men, women and mixed 4*400 relays. The Indian contingent is expected to bag medals in all three of them and it is the timing that will be of interest. The women 4*100 team cleared the qualification mark during the confirmatory trials and too would be seen in action. In the field events the biggest news in build up to the event was the last minute inclusion of Davinder Singh Kang in place of the injured Neeraj Chopra. Kang was recently cleared of the doping charges by the AIU. Despite the absence of Chopra, India can expect a medal in Javelin from either Kang or Shivpal Singh who has already thrown 82.56m this season. The qualification mark for the World Championship stands at 83.0m. Annu Rani has already secured her a place for World Championship and she will look to challenge the Chinese domination in Javelin Throw. She has Kumari Sharmila for company. In absence of Seema Punia, Kamalpreet Singh and Commonwealth Games bronze medalist Navjeet Kaur will lead the Indian challenge in discuss throw. In shotput, Tajinder Singh Toor will look to bag the gold and also the World Championship spot. Tajinder's 20.75m thrown in Jakarta that fetched him the gold medal was the only throw by an Asian athlete in 2018 to go beyond 20m and this makes him a favourite for gold. Among the jump events, it is only the Triple Jump where Indian presence will be seen in form of 2018 Youth Olympic Games bronze medallist Praveen Chitravel. In heptathlon, Swapna Barman and Purnima Hembram will fancy their chance of finishing among medals but they will have to improve on the national record to meet the World Championship qualification criteria of 6300 points or bag the gold medal. It is unlikely that India will match its medal tally from 2017 edition where they finished at the top of the table thanks to home conditions and weakened entry lists. The important thing though will be to see how many athletes can qualify for the World Championships.