Indian athletics has been on the rise over the last couple of years or so. However, as the country enters the 2019 Doha World Athletics Championships without its top stars, a medal seems like a far-fetched thought. Forget medal, even making the finals could be difficult in most disciplines.
At last year’s Asian Games in Jakarta, the Indian athletics contingent brought home as many as 20 medals, eight of them gold. But don’t let that fool you. When it comes to international standards, Indian athletes are still some way off.
The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) has been pinning its hopes on the relay teams (especially women’s 4x400m relay) for a medal at world meets for quite a few years now (since 2010). Up until this point, there have been none.
The Rio Olympics in 2016 saw the men’s relay team crashing out in the heats with a disqualification while the women’s team finished seventh in their heats. At the World Championships, India have historically struggled to make it past the heats both in men’s and women’s.
In 2018, with the rise of Hima Das, hopes were reignited. Hima’s awe-inspiring, record-breaking spree in 400m was something out of the world. From clocking 55.57s in September 2017 to clocking 50.79s in August 2018, Hima’s improvement was significant.
How significant? Significant enough for people to believe that she can bring home an individual Olympic medal from Tokyo, significant enough for everyone to believe that the entire scenario of the women’s relay team has changed from a longer-term perspective.
However, an almost ‘incurable’ back injury has forced Hima to give the Doha meet a miss. With her in the team, chances of bagging a medal at the Worlds would have been much higher. On top of that, the omission of Saritaben Gayakwad due to yet another mysterious injury also hurts India’s chances.
Still, without the likes of Neeraj Chopra and Tejaswin Shankar, India’s best chances of making a mark at the Worlds lie in the relay races. Having said that, it will be not an easy task. Keeping aside the injury problems, despite a training-cum-competition programme in Europe lasting more than six months, the 400m runners have not shown any marked improvement.
A full-strength team with air-tight preparations could have bagged a medal, however slim the chances. The AFI has declared that Muhammed Anas will not be taking part in the individual event so that he can help the relay team to finish with a better timing.
But India do not have a full-strength squad. Hima is not there, the men’s team has also been hit hard by the absence of injured athletes like Rajiv Arokia. The mixed team that won the silver at the Asian Championships in Doha clocking 3:16.47 — a timing that ranked 5th among all countries in this year’s list behind Poland, Bahrain, USA and Italy — will not be running at the worlds.
Moreover, the USA and Jamaican quarter-milers were just warming up at the World Relay Championships in Yokohama. Realistically, the expectations on India should be scaled down to just a slim chance of entering the finals. If a team is able to make it to the finals at the world meet, which essentially means the top-eight, it would automatically qualify for the Olympics next year, that should be the goal for India.