The world’s best track and field athletes will converge in Doha, Qatar, from September 27. They will be competing for individual and national glory at the 17th edition of the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) World Athletics Championships. It is considered by observers as the final show of strength in track and field, before the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
A 26-member contingent from India will be participating in the 10-day event. Will they strike gold and boost their confidence for Tokyo 2020? We take a look at India’s gladiators.
Jinson Johnson warmed the nation’s heart by winning the 1500m gold in the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games. The Arjuna awardee goes to Doha as one of India’s brightest prospects. He’s come back strongly after a poor start to 2019. In April, while participating in the Asian Athletics Championships held in Doha, Johnson had to limp off the field mid-race in the 800m. After coming back, Johnson decided to concentrate solely on the 1500m. This decision seems to be paying off for him. He won the silver in the 1500m ISTAF Berlin event, clocking a national record time. India will hope that his golden run continues.
Barring an injury, perhaps nothing can prevent Tejinder Pal Singh Toor from bagging the Shot Put gold. The Arjuna awardee is in brilliant form, having won gold at the 2018 Asian Games as well as the Asian Athletics Championships. The gold in the Jakarta Asian Games is legendary. While Tejinder won the gold, his father lost his battle with cancer. He passed away just as Tejinder landed back victorious. Although Tejinder’s father won’t be around to watch his exploits in Doha, millions of Indians will still be rooting for him.
Murali Sreeshankar is the new kid on the block. The long jumper twice set a national record in the qualification events. The teenager would be eager to come back to top-flight competition after a heel injury kept him out of the Asian Championships. Will he jump the farthest?
Neeraj Chopra’s non-participation owing to injury was a big dent in India’s preparations. In his absence, 24-year-old Shivpal Singh will muster India’s challenge in Javelin Throw. Shivpal claimed the silver at the Asian Championships with a personal best throw of 86.23m. He will, however, have to better his best by a bigger margin to defeat the world’s best athletes. Will he be able to do it?
Hima Das’ inability to recover in time has been a big setback for India. In her absence, P.U. Chitra will spearhead the women’s contingent. The Keralite won the 1500m gold in the 2017 and 2019 Asian Athletics Championships. She, however, had to settle for a bronze at the Jakarta Asian Games. Anything less than the yellow metal at Doha would disappoint both Chitra and India.
It’s been a strange year for India’s sprint queen Dutee Chand. In May, she came out in the open about her same-sex relationship. Since then, she has been quoted in interviews as being in a better personal and mental space. Her results on the field, however, don’t seem to have improved much. She just about qualified for the 100m event in Doha. She will have to perform far better than her 200m bronze medal-winning effort in the 2019 Asian Championships. With the monkey off her back, can she outrun the world?
Annu Rani is a dark horse in the women’s team. Annu won the silver in the 2019 Asian Championships in Javelin Throw. She, however, hasn’t been consistent over the year. She will have to shake off her scratchy form for a podium finish at Doha.
India’s biggest hopes, however, lie in the three 4x400m relay teams — men, women and mixed. There is a lot of talk about the kind of effort put in by the head coach — 74-year-old US national Galina Bukharina. Galina is credited with Hima’s rise and the resurgence of Yahiya Muhammed Anas. Her hard work was visible in the Asian Championships, where India bagged two medals.
The injuries to Hima Das and Arokia Rajiv have put a spanner in the works. Nevertheless, the teams are confident of doing well at the world stage now. India will look towards Anas to lead the charge in the men’s and the mixed relay disciplines. Among the women, M.R. Poovamma and V.K. Vismaya should anchor the team to success