As the monsoon rain pattered down on the practice arena at the Shiv Chhatrapati Stadium,Samuel Adelebari Francis,a Nigerian running for Qatar since 2007,began his training session. He might have been the Asian 100m record holder and the only man from the continent,if one discounts his roots,to break the 10-second barrier,but he was only billed as a sideshow in the Qatari contingent.
Adelebari’s teammate Mutaz Eassa Barshim,only 21,was instead dubbed the star attraction at the 20th edition of the Asian Athletics Championships. Last month,Barshim,a World Junior Champion,scaled 2.40m to break the previous Asian high jump mark,which had stood since 1984. At the World Championships to be held in Moscow in August,Barshim is expected to edge closer to Javier Sotomayor’s long-standing world record of 2.43m. On Tuesday afternoon,however,Barshim pulled out of the Pune event,citing a sore back.
Despite that,the event is not completely shorn of star value as a host of defending champions remain in the fray. Maryam Yusuf Jamalm,Bahrain’s former World Champion in the 1,500m,has confirmed her participation. China’s Wei Yongli,who has recorded the season leading times in the women’s 100m and 200m this year,is expected to win her pet events.
The pressure to perform at home will fall on the Indian athletes,more so because winners at Pune will gain direct entry into the World Championships. One such athlete is 400m specialist MR Poovamma. Over the past two years the 22-year-old has shaved nearly two seconds off her personal best. Her latest best,52.75s,arrived in April at the Federation Cup,just before she swept the three legs of the Asian Grand Prix. Though Poovamma doesn’t have the season’s best timing among Asian athletes,she has the fastest timing among those who are participating here.
Like Poovamma,long jumper Mayookha Johny will be hoping to win gold but her task will be tougher given the fact that she is nursing a sore right ankle. Also,the presence of Japan’s Saeko Okayama,the season-topper at 6.59m,will raise the level of competition. In the last edition at Kobe,Mayookha had won gold in the long jump and bronze in the triple jump. Her distance in the hop-skip-and-jump was good enough to help her qualify for the Olympics. But with her form being average this season,Mayookha is set to participate only in the long jump in Pune.
Unlike Poovamma and Mayookha,Sudha Singh had already achieved the B qualifying standard for the Worlds during the Inter-state meet held in Chennai last month,but she hopes to top her performance by winning gold. Over the past 30 months Sudha has broken the national record five times and only a wet track,with rains predicted,may come in the way of her further improving her timing.
Women’s discus throw specialist Krishna Poonia will be up against the Chinese duo of Jiang Fengjing and Su Xinyue,both of whom have topped her best effort this year.
Siddhanth Thingalaya in the men’s 110m hurdles and the men’s high-jumpers,including Prem Kumar Kumaravel,who is only the fourth Indian to cross the 8m mark,face a predicament similar to Poonia’s. However,in the men’s 10,000m,Kheta Ram is tipped to win in a field that may not see the top runners participate,while US-based Vikas Gowda is highly fancied in the men’s discus.