With the top eight teams at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Indian relay teams (men, women and mixed) are aiming to reach the final and seal the spots at the Worlds.
The last couple of months were quite hectic for Indian athletes. They were busy competing at home as well as Europe. An idea build-up one would imagine -- getting exposure to building towards peaking at the World Championships. Not quite. The Indians were making last-ditch attempts to make the qualifying mark for the IAAF World Athletics Championships (September 27 to October 6) which begins in Doha on Friday.
With javelin star Neeraj Chopra out, recovering from elbow surgery, Indians go into the championships with no medal hope, Making into the finals of events would be considered a major achievement, at best.
In the last edition of the Worlds in London (2017), only one Indian made it to the final (Davinder Singh Kang in men's javelin), while the rest, including race walkers and marathoners, produced disappointing performances.
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Hima Das, whose triumphs in Europe running in lower rung races were celebrated, failed to qualify for the Championships. Her performances in the 400m were far below her personal best of 50.79 seconds recorded last year at the Asian Games. She would have been part of the Indian relay quartets (4x400 women's and mixed teams) but a back injury has forced her out too.
Hima's injury, and the dilly dallying the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) did around that, posed a lot of questions about how the management was taking care of training as well as injury management of athletes.
So, as things stand, it would be quite a surprise if any of the Indians make it to the podium. A realistic final prospect would the three 4x400m relay teams, particularly the mixed 4x400m, an event that is making its debut at the World Championships. India is fielding a 27-member team, out of which 13 have been named just for the relays. Ayyasamy Dharun, who is expected to be in the relay quartet, will also run in the individual 400m hurdles.
National record holder Muhammed Anas will not take part in the individual 400m though he had qualified for it. The logic given by the AFI is that it is to give Anas enough rest so that he can give his best in the relays, boosting the men's 4x400m relay team's chances of making the finals.
The top eight finishers in all the relays will earn berths for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Indians are hoping to seal the relay berths at the Worlds.
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Among other athletes, long jumper Sreeshankar Murali, 800m runner Jinson Johnson and shot putter Tejinder Pal Singh Toor will have to do better than their best to reach the finals, while Dutee Chand is hoping to reach the 100m semifinals.
Sreeshankar will start India's campaign in the qualification round of the men's long jump on the opening day. The automatic qualification mark for the finals is 8.15m though jumpers below this mark can also advance if enough athletes do not cross the cut-off distance to make the 12 finalists.
Sreeshankar, 20, has gone beyond 8.15m just once in his career -- 8.20m last year in the National Open. His season's best is 8.00m, which is second-to-last among the 27 jumpers who will start the qualification round.
Later in the day, Ayyasamy and M P Jabir will run in the men's 400m hurdles heats. With 48.80m as his season's best, Ayyasamy, who recently recovered from an injury, has a better chance of making it to the semifinals from heat No. 5 than Jabir, who will run earlier in the first heat.
The first four in each of the five heats and the next four fastest will qualify for the semifinals.
(With inputs from PTI)
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