Hima Das, Anas bright medal hopes in track events

AGENCIES
NEW DELHI,14th Aug: In the 77-year history of the Asian Games, athletics has been the most fruitful discipline for India, accounting for over half of all the gold medals (74 of 139) the country has won at the quadrennial event. Wrestling and kabaddi come a distant second with nine each.

This year too there are some strong contenders in both track and field from India’s 52-athlete contingent headed to Jakarta and Palembang in Indonesia later this month. The one star shining brightest on Indian athletics’ firmament is Hima Das. The 18-year-old created history last month by becoming the first Indian to win a track gold at a junior world championship. Her time of 51.46 seconds in women’s 400 metre won her the gold medal in Tampere, Finland. That run would have been enough to clinch her gold in Incheon 2014, where Kemi Adekoya won in 51.59.

Das’s personal best of 51.13 seconds proves that she can still go faster than her Finland run and that makes her a strong contender for the gold in Jakarta. Nirmala Sheoran’s PB of 51.25 seconds also puts her among medal contenders.

Muhammed Anas is another 400 metre athlete creating sensation on the national circuit. Earlier this year, he became only the third Indian man to qualify for the final of a track event at the Commonwealth Games. He set the national record with a time of 45.31 seconds in Gold Coast but missed the bronze by a whisker eventually finishing fourth in a tough field. A similar run in Jakarta will surely win Anas a medal, however, with Asian record holder Yousef Masrahi in competition in Jakarta, it will be a tough fight for gold for the 23-year-old.

Rajiv Arokia took home the bronze in men’s 400 metre in Incheon and he will look to improve upon the colour of his medal in Jakarta. In the 4x400 metre the team comprising Anas, Rajiv, Kunhu Mohammed, Jithu Baby, Jeevan K.S., and Santosh Kumar is strong and will be among the medal contenders. In the women’ 4x400 relay, India are the defending champions. The quartet of M. R. Poovamma, Priyanka Pawar, Tintu Lukka, and Mandeep Kaur clinched gold four years ago with a Games’ record timing and despite Das skipping the relay due to a clash of timings with her other events, India will be strong favourites for a podium finish.

In the newly introduced mixed relay event the team of Anas, Arokia, Das, and Poovamma can be expected to fetch a medal. While there is a lack of Indian contenders in men’s sprints, the women can expect some glory with Dutee Chand and Das. Chand’s PB of 11.24 seconds in 100 metres would have fetched her a gold four years ago. Das has a PB of 23.10 seconds in 200 metres while Chand has clocked 23.34 seconds, timings that would have fetched them medals in Incheon and make them medal hopefuls in Jakarta.

In the 800 metre and 1500 metre races, Jinson Johnson is India’s biggest medal hope if he runs near his personal best. However, the middle and long distance races are highly strategic in nature and predicting their results is an exercise in futility. In the women’s section, P.T. Usha’s protégé Lukka, who won a silver four years ago, will look to improve upon that showing this year.

Steeplechaser Naveen Kumar, who took home the bronze in 2014, will look to better while Sudha Singh will be the Indian hope in the women’s section in the absence of 2014 bronze medallist Lalita Babar who is battling an illness. Khushbir Kaur, who created history in 2014 by becoming the first Indian woman to win silver in racewalking at an Asiad, will be looking to go one better in the 20 kilometres walk in Jakarta.


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