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Burden of expectations weigh heavy on the shoulders of Indian athletes

IANS | September 17, 2023 02:23 PM

MUMBAI: Been there, done that -- Indian athletics' golden boy Neeraj Chopra will defend the men's javelin throw title he won in Jakarta in 2018 at the Asian Games starting in Hangzhou, China, on September 23.

But will he actually participate in Hangzhou? That is a million-dollar question, and the answer to this will be out only after the competition begins.

Besieged by injuries this season, Chopra made history by winning the gold at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, last month.

Speaking to the media a few days after that triumph, Chopra confirmed that he plans to participate in the Diamond League Final and the Asian Games.

But he also said that his priority this season is to remain healthy and fit. For that, he will not hesitate to pull out of any event -- especially with less than a year to go before next year's Paris Olympic Games in 2024.

Indian fans will be hoping that Neeraj Chopra participates in the Hangzhou Asian Games and wins the gold, just like he did in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.

From the time of Kamaljeet Sandhu to Geeta Gushti and P.T. Usha to Hima Das in the 2018 Asian Games, athletics has earned India a rich haul of medals over the years at the Asian Games.

Kamaljeet became the first female Indian to win a gold medal at the 1970 Bangkok Asian Games in the 400m race, while Geeta Zutshi took it a step further when she won one gold and three silver medals in 800m and 1500m in two editions -- 1978 and 1982.

And who can forget P.T. Usha's brilliant performance in the 1986 edition in Seoul, claiming four gold and one silver to script one of the most glorious chapters in Indian sports history?

Before Usha, Milkha Singh ruled the roost as he became the most successful male athlete from the country with four gold spread over two editions of the Games.

Even though in recent times India have started winning medals in many other disciplines, athletics remain the best source of medals for the country.

In all, India have won 254 medals in athletics in 18 editions of the Asian Games, which include 79 gold. This is the most medals won by the country in a single sport with shooting coming a distant second with 57 medals, including nine gold.

Considering India's recent strides in track and field, the country will be expecting a rich haul of medals from athletics at the Hangzhou Asian Games.

India will be expecting to win medals in double digits in athletics in Hangzhou, doing well in mid and long-distance running, throws, jumps and relays.

While the spotlight, and speculation, will be on Neeraj Chopra, there will be others who will be medal contenders.

In Hangzhou, India will be represented by 35 male and 33 female participants in athletics.

Besides Chopra, the other Indian medal contenders in Hangzhou are:

1. Tejinderpal Singh Toor (shot put): After recently setting the Asian record, Toor will be hoping to retain the gold he won in Jakarta. A recent injury could be a matter of concern.

2. Murali Sreeshanker (long jump): One of the three Indians who had qualified for the Diamond League final, Sreeshanker decided to skip the event in Eugene, USA, to concentrate on Asian Games.

3. Jeswin Aldrin (long jump): Having reached the final in the World Championships in Budapest, the long jumper will be hoping to go all the way and finish on the podium.

4. Praveen Chitravel (triple jump): Having finished fourth in the 2022 Commonwealth Games, the 22-year-old from Tamil Nadu is a Youth Olympic and Asian Indoor medallist.

5. Avinash Kumar Sable (steeplechase): India's best steeplechaser ever, Sable could not reproduce his form in the World Championships. The Commonwealth Games medallist also skipped the Diamond League final.

Parul Chaudhary (5000m and the 3000m steeplechase): She will be competing in women's 5000m and the 3000m steeplechase. Gold medallist in steeplechase at the Asian Championships in Bangkok in July, Parul set the national record in 3000m steeplechase in the World Championships.

Annu Rani (javelin throw): Bronze medallist in the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and silver medallist in the Asian Championships in Doha in 2019, 31-year-old Annu Rani is hoping for another podium finish after having missed a medal in the 2018 Asian Games.

Jyothi Yarraji (100m hurdles and 200m): The 24-year-old from Visakhapatnam holds the national record in short hurdles and recently won silver in the 2023 Asian Indoor Athletics Championships at Astana. Will be hoping to convert her success in the Asian Athletics Championship (gold in 100m hurdles) to maiden gold in the Asian Games.

Men's 4x400m hurdles team: After their recent success in the World Championships where they raced shoulder-to-shoulder with their US superstars, the team of Mohd Anas, Amoj Jacob, Muhammad Ajmal and Rajesh Ramesh will be the top contender for medal after their recent success.

Women's 4x400m hurdles: The team too is expected to finish on the podium as should the mixed relay team.

One of the reasons for so much optimism about these athletes is their recent success in the US and European circuits.

Most of the stars have received support from the government and all the top guns have had foreign training stints sponsored via TOPS.

The government has poured in huge monies in training these athletes. It is now time for them to repay that faith reposed in them with medals in Hangzhou.

With around 10 months to go before the Olympic Games in Paris, Hangzhou provides the administrators an opportunity to assess their preparations for the mega event.

Can the Indian athletes live up to the rising expectations?

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