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Incheon (South Korea), Sep 18: After a below-par show in the Commonwealth Games at Glasgow, Indian athletes would look to regain the lost pride in the track and field events in the Asian Games starting here Friday. Athletics had contributed 12 medals in the previous edition of the Asian Games but matching that performance seems to be highly unlikely this time as the build-ups have been marred by curtailing of the squad and late clearance from both the ministry and the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) which is a big distraction for the 56-member athletics squad. Also Read - International Flights: Now Indians Can Fly to Japan, UK, Canada And 10 Other Countries | Who is Allowed & Who is Not? Read Detailed SOPs
In these circumstances, the athletes not only need to put aside the distractions but also need to raise their bar. India’s biggest hope would be discus thrower Vikash Gowda. The Karnataka-born athlete will be high on confidence after winning the gold in Glasgow. Gowda had won bronze medal at the 2010 Asiad where he had lost to Iran’s Ehsan Hadaddi and Mohammad Hamimi. The Iranian duo will give a tough time to Gowda, who also needs to handle the pressure of expectations. Also Read - India's COVID-19 Tally Nears 55 Lakh-mark, Deaths Stand at 87,882 | Key Points
Women discus thrower Seema Punia could also be contention as she has proved her mettle in the Commonwealth Games, where she had claimed silver medal. However, it looks tough for shot putter Om Prakash Karhana, who injured himself just before the retrial and the AFI is now awaiting his medical report.
In the track events, long-distance runners, Preeja Sreedharan and Sudha Singh are the strong contenders for gold. Preeja, who won the gold medal in the 10000m race and silver in the 5,000m in the 2010 Asian Games, said her focus for the last six months has been the Asian Games.
“For the last six months we have focussed only on performing at the 2014 Asian Games. We hope the entire country will support our endeavour,” she said. Sudha, reigning Asian Games and Asian champion in 3000m steeplechase, said India runners are ready for the mega event.
“We have been training continuously under Dr Nikolai Snesareva since February at our Ooty camp. All of us are ready to fight for our medals at Incheon, there is no question of being apprehensive of any competition that comes our way,” Sudha said.
Preeja and Sudha are trained by coach Nikolai Snesareva, who has strong confidence in her another ward – O.P. Jaisha, who will compete in the 1500m race. Ashwini Akkunji, the 400m hurdler and the relay queen who had starred in the previous edition of Asiad in Guangzhou, is yet to reach to a level since her comeback from the doping ban. The 4x400m relay team comprising M.R. Poovamma, Tintu Luka, Debashree Mazumdar and Akkunji doesn’t have the speed to stand a chance of a podium finish.
Luka, even may find it difficult to finish at the podium this time in her individual race. Luka, who is trained by legendary athlete P.T. Usha, had won the bronze in Guangzhou four years ago but disappointed in Glasgow. CWG 2014 bronze medallist triple jumper Arpinder Singh would be a force to reckon with but gold may be out of reach for the lad from Amritsar. Other triple jumpers – Mayookha Johny and Renjith Maheshwary are still waiting for re-trails.
Walkers are also looking in form to put up a strong performance though gold looks elusive for them. Olympian Irfan Thodi, who finished 10th at the 2012 London Olympics, Ganapathy K. and Khusbir Kaur are India’s hopes in the 20-km walk while Olympian Basant Bahadur Rana and national record holder Sandeep Kumar will be taking part in the 50-km category.
Chief coach Alexander Artsybashev has been making the walkers race 10-km extra to raise their endurance. While Irfan, Ganpathy and Khusbir are racing 30 km everyday, Rana and Sandeep are doing 60 km. “The walkers have been racing 10 km extra everyday. It is definitely a positive trend. The idea is to increase the endurance levels of the walkers,” coach Alexander said.
“All five walkers have done hard work and I sincerely appreciate it. I am sure they will put up a strong fight. The Asian Games are another step towards the Olympics and I feel this is just the beginning,” said the Russian.