After a high of Asian Games in Jakarta last year where Indian track and field contingent bagged a total of 20 medals, including eight gold medals, Indian athletes head to Doha for the 2019 IAAF World Championships with a stern test awaiting them.
In sprints Dutee Chand, the World University Games champion has qualified for the 100 metres courtesy of her ranking in the top-performances lists. Dutee has had a busy year both on and off the track and has been focussing on the 100 metres than running both the 100 and 200 for last few months. Her two sub 11.30 timings – 11.26 (season-best) and 11.28 came at the Asian Championships and she will have to better that to have any chance of making it to the semis.
Archana Suseentran has had a good 2019 and has clocked personal best over both the 100 and 200 metres. It is her personal best clocking of 23.18 over 200 metres that has got her a late entry into the championships and a chance to rub shoulders with the best in the world. Anjali Devi bettered the 400m qualification standard twice – 51.79 at Open Nationals last year and then 51.53 at interstates last month. Her timings in events in between were 54.50, 55.98, 55.93 and 56.40 and these sudden spikes in performances raise a lot of doubt. How she would perform in Doha remains a big mystery.
In the middle distance, Jinson Johnson and PU Chitra will compete in men’s and women’s 1,500 metres, respectively. Chitra, the gold medallist from Asian Games and Asian Championships, will have a tough task competing against the likes of Laura Muir and Sifan Hassan. Jinson improved on his national record twice this year and if the 1,500 metres is slow and a tactical affair, he will be in with a chance to make the finals. Jinson had a forgetful start to the year when he dropped out of the 800 metres final at the Asian Championships due to a calf injury.
The doubts over his fitness and form were laid to rest when he improved his national record to 3:37.62 in Nijmegen, Netherlands on 15th June. On 1st September, competing in ISTAF Berlin, an IAAF World Challenge event, he kicked hard in the last 150 metres to improve his national record by over 2 seconds to 3:35.24 and qualify for the world championships. With due caution in mind, it must be mentioned that the Tokyo qualification mark stands at 3:35 and Jinson, who is now training at American Distance Project in Colorado, could well achieve that in times to come.
400m hurdles have been one of the marquee events of the year with the likes Karsten Warholm, Rai Benjamin and Abderrahman Samba setting the track on fire. Indian representation in the event, MP Jabir has had a consistent 2019 highlighted by a personal best of 49.13 set at the Asian Championships. Jabir has been consistently clocking sub 50 and a time of 49.5 or around will see him make the semifinals.
National Record holder Dharun Ayyasamy too will compete but there are doubts over his fitness and form as he hasn’t run a competitive 400m hurdles races since Federation Cup in March owing to an injury.
Avinash Sable has broken the 3,000 metres Steeplechase national record twice in the last one year and is the first Indian to have gone under the 8:30.00 mark. Earlier in the year, he had bagged the silver at the Asian Championships with a time of 8:30.19. It will be a tall task for Sable to challenge the might of the Africans in this event and make it to the finals but another national record can’t be ruled out.
Not a lot has been spoken about marathon man T Gopi though his qualification for World Championships was really noteworthy. Having failed to qualify at the Tata Mumbai Marathon 2019, Gopi clocked 2:13.39, the second-fastest time by an Indian ever, at Seoul Marathon to book himself a ticket for Doha.
This was the first time in recent past that an Indian had gone under 2:15. Gopi had finished 25th at Rio and 28th at the World Championships in London and would be looking for another respectable finish at the night marathon in Doha. KT Irfan in 20km race-walk is the only Indian athlete to have qualified for Tokyo Olympics in Athletics. He had clocked 1:20:57 at Asian Racewalking Championships earlier in the year to qualify both the World Championships and Olympics. He will be accompanied by Devender Singh in the same event.
Tajinder Singh Toor is nowhere near the kind of form that saw him set a Shot Put National Record of 20.75 at Asian Games in Jakarta last year. Toor has been camping in Europe since Asian Championships and has completed in some decent quality meets but his 2019 Season Best stands at 20.36. Shivpal Singh qualified for Doha with a monstrous throw of 86.23 at Asian Championships but his performances since then have gone downhill and he has failed to go beyond 82 metres. Men’ s Javelin has a lot of depth and Shivpal will have to be at his best to have any chance of making it to the finals.
On the other hand, Annu Rani has been a consistent and steady performer throughout the year. Annu threw a personal best of 62.34 at the Federation Cup and then backed it up with throws around 60-61 metres in the European meets. Her 62.34 metres throw places her at 27th position in the 2019 Season Best list and it would be a big challenge for her to make the finals.
Long Jumper Sreeshankar qualified for Doha in October last year when he had jumped to a national record of 8.20m at Open Nationals. The 20-year-old missed the first half of 2019 due to an injury and since his return has managed a best jump of 8 metres. Sreeshankar is undoubtedly one of India’ s most talented athletes and competing in his first senior world championships would give him invaluable experience.
The Athletics Federation of India has tried to paint a rosy image of India’ s chances in the three 4*400 relays especially the mixed and has even gone ahead and not entered Anas in the 400 metres individual event so as to preserve him for relays. The reality though seems quite different and with Rajiv Arokia, Hima Das and Saritaben Gaikwad not part of the contingent due to injuries and doubts over the form and fitness of a few others, it will be a tall order for the Indian quartermilers to match the times clocked at the Asian Games last year.
The women squad looks particularly weak with three of the six members not having broken 53.50 seconds in their careers so far. The 400 metres runners have primarily been based in Europe since the Asian Games last year – first in Turkey at the end of 2018 and then in Poland & Czech Republic this year and naturally, a lot of eyes will be on their performances. VK Vismaya, Muhammed Anas Yahiya and Nirmal Noah Tom have been three positives to emerge so far as they have improved their personal bests in Europe and if the trio performs to its potential, India could have an outside chance of making it to the finals in mixed relays.
Indian athletes are unlikely to be in contention for the medals but this doesn’t undermine the importance of the event for them. A good performance at World Championship will go a long way in boosting their world rankings and hence chances to qualify for Tokyo Olympics.