CHENNAI: In the last few years, the performance of Indian athletes at the Asian level has made heads turn. If Japan topped the medal charts for the first four years since the inception of the Asian Athletics Championships in 1973, China dominated from 1983 to 2015. But in 2017, India dethroned the Chinese in Bhubaneswar. At the Asian Games last year, Indians returned with their best-ever medal haul. Track and field athletes contributed a major chunk of it, bagging 19 medals and seven of the 15 gold medals won by the country.
While individual events like javelin and shot put have new stars like Neeraj Chopra and Tajinderpal Singh Toor, the team events have been productive as well. The men’s 4x400m relay team is one of them.
The quartet of Kunhu Muhammed, Amoj Jacob, Arokia Rajiv and Mohammad Anas bagged gold in 2017 with a timing of 3:02.92. But at the Asian Games, Anas, Muhammed, Rajiv and Dharun Ayyasamy settled for silver. However, with another edition of the Asian Championship beginning in Doha on Sunday, Anas feels defending the crown won’t be easy.
He thinks the Gulf countries will be a major threat. “Doha will be tough. We might have won silver at the Asian Games, but Qatar will be our toughest opponents like they were in Jakarta. This time they will have home advantage as well. Japan also is a strong contender,” Anas told this newspaper. Nevertheless, the 24-year-old and his team are confident of a good show. Injuries have forced many stars to pull out and the relay team is missing Dharun.
The 400m hurdles specialist is a vital member of the relay team and he has been ruled out after suffering a shin bone stress fracture. “The team is really confident. But Dharun will be a huge loss. He is a very good relay runner. But we are physically in good shape. We haven’t changed much with regards to training. The key will be to balance the workout load and remain injury free,” the Kerala athlete added.
With Olympic qualification being the primary target for all athletes this year, some of them like triple jumper Arpinder Singh decided to skip the event to concentrate on the World Championships. But with Doha set to host the Worlds a few months later, this trip will help them get acclimatised to the conditions.
“While many people think that we have mastered the event at the Asian level, it’s not the case. Other countries are also improving. This competition will not help us qualify for the Olympics. But it will give us points and that is crucial. The real test will be the World Championships in September,” said Anas.