Athletes look to make most of Asian Championships

The continental championships will be crucial for athletes ahead of the World Championships in Budapest next month and the Asian Games in Hangzhou in September-October.
FILE - Athletics Federation of India chief Adille Sumariwalla
FILE - Athletics Federation of India chief Adille Sumariwalla

CHENNAI: It had not been the best of buildups for the Asian Athletics Championships in Bangkok from July 12 to July 16. At least two athletes including senior nationals medallists tested positive ahead of the event. And there have been a couple of high-profile withdrawals as well. Javelin thrower Rohit Yadav and Praveen Chithravel decided to not compete because of injuries.

Yet, the continental championships will be crucial for athletes ahead of the World Championships in Budapest next month and the Asian Games in Hangzhou in September-October. Top athletes like M Sreeshankar and Tajinderpal Toor would like to get much-needed confidence for the Worlds with a good show at the Bangkok meet. In fact they are expected to top the podium.

However, somehow Sreeshankar's name was missing from the entry list. It is understood that his team found this in the afternoon and had informed the manager. India's top athlete's name missing from the entry list astonished quite a few but his name is expected to be on the list by Wednesday.

It is understood that the AFI had sent his name and officially it has been entered as well and because of some technical issue it did not get published on the entry list. As expected, on Wednesday, this was sorted out and the athlete who travelled from Europe is ready for the event.

Ostensibly so, the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) is looking at the championships as a stepping stone for the world championships and Asian Games. Adille Sumariwalla, the AFI president, was quite categorical when he emphasised on it being a stepping stone and a platform to gain confidence before the all-important worlds and the Asian Games. "My expectations are quite simple," he told this daily from Bangkok. "I think our athletes will take this event as a platform to prepare for the bigger challenges ahead. I am not looking at anything particular but I hope they meet the targets set by the coaches and work for better performances in the next competitions."

The AFI chief felt that the athletes who have qualified for the worlds must do well here. "There is hardly any gap between this and the world meet and later the Asian Games," he said. "So if one doesn't perform well here means he or she will not be able to do well at the worlds. So, we will keep a close watch on the athletes."

Though he did not say that they have set any criteria for athletes to consolidate their positions in the world championships team, he said that they will be closely monitored. "We will definitely see how they perform and if they are doing really badly then we will have to take a look into their performances," he said. "The athletes have qualified through World Athletics standard so we can't talk about qualifying and not qualifying but we will look at their performances here."

The AFI president also talked about the Asian Athletics Association's best member federation award. "It's a great honour and is an acknowledgement of the work we have done," he said. "This is not just because of on-field performances but about how we have performed in various other parameters like coaches' programme, grassroots development from district to senior national level. This also shows that we are among the big league. It's not easy to compete against countries like China, Japan or countries from the gulf."

Sumariwalla said that the award is all about team effort. "I must say that it's a big team effort," he said. "Right from the planning commission and its chief Lalit Bhanot to coaches and support staff and officials. The person who waters the ground to the one who delivers tea to us. Everyone has contributed to this."

Even now the team has not decided on the 4x400 men and women combination as yet.

All eyes will be on the youngsters like sprinter Jyothi Yarraji and long jumper Shaili Singh. "We are expecting the youngsters to do well because that will give impetus to our grassroots programme," he said. "They will be the future and their doing well at this time is crucial." In 2019, India won two gold, seven silver and seven bronze. Javelin Annu Rani, who begins her campaign on Wednesday, too is expected to medal.

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