Relay squads in shambles, a top prospect out of contention because of a back injury, and a sudden dip in form of some athletes when they should have been peaking — it has been a far from smooth sailing for India in the run-up to the IAAF World Championships. Here’s a summary of India’s preparations for Doha.
Now you see her, now you don’t
Out of the blue, quarter-miler Anjali Devi qualifies for the Worlds at the Open National Championships in Bhubaneshwar in September. She is part of the national camp and trains with the elite 400m campers in Antalya, Turkey. However, her timings plateau. She is asked to head back to the National Institute of Sports in Patiala where another group of trainees is based. By March she leaves the camp.
The reasons keep varying: from her mother being ill, to sitting for an examination, to injury. With just about a month left for the Worlds, she returns to competition after a five-month gap and wins gold with a timing of 51.53s, raising eyebrows in the process. She is asked to attend a confirmatory trial, a must for athletes who have been away from the camp for extended periods, to check their fitness and form. She clocks a slower 52.30s and heads to Doha.
‘Acclimatisation’ costs a berth
It is 35-degree centigrade, the humidity levels are close to 80, the afternoon sun is harsh. A handful of spectators and coaches who have made it to the far end of the PAC Stadium in Lucknow to watch the men’s triple jump final of the Inter-State Championships are getting dehydrated and trying to huddle in a small patch of shade. The jumpers have no respite from the heat. The organizers — the Uttar Pradesh Athletics Association — have not even arranged drinking water for the triple jumpers.
By the end of the competition, Arpinder Singh, the Asian Games gold-medallist is dizzy and exhausted. His best jump, in his second attempt, is 16.83 metres. He seemed destined to meet the qualifying standard of 16.95 metres for the World Championships, but the heat and humidity got the better of him. The logic given by an official for holding an event during the hottest time of the day is this: “Doha will also be very hot.” The fact is that the Khalifa Stadium is air-conditioned.
Flip-flop on Hima’s injury status
Hima Das’s back injury is played down as a reason for her not being able to qualify in the 400m for the World Championships in August. The 45-day break she took to study in Feb-March when she hardly trained, is the cause for her dip in timings, the athletics federation believes now. By September, she is picked for the relay squad with a rider. Now, her back injury has become a major concern and AFI decides that she will run only after a medical assessment just before the event.
A week later she is ruled out because of the injury. Just over a year after her historic gold at the Junior World Championships, Hima faces an uncertain future. The fact that she was made to run lower-tier events in Europe despite a bad back raises the question: Did the AFI mismanage her back injury?
Relay bubble waiting to burst
The relay squad have always been hyped as medal prospects. In the run-up to the Worlds, there is talk of a possible medal in the mixed relays. Thankfully, good sense prevails and the prediction is downgraded to a ‘qualification for the final’. Injuries to key runners, including Arokia Rajiv, Saritaben Gayakwad and Das — all the members of medal winnings relay squads at the Asian Games — have been a setback. The men’s relay team are on the edge of failing to qualify after being pushed down to the 16th and last place in the rankings. Alarm bells ring and the AFI adds the men’s relay event to the Inter-State Athletics Championships a lifeline.
A comedy of errors follows at the meet when the main runner of the first team limps off because of injury and his teammate takes the baton from another team. Luckily, there are no last-minute surprises at the African Games, and the men’s squad hold on to the 16th place.
No Chopra, no buzz
A day before the Doha championship, star Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra calls up a federation official and tells him he is keen to participate. Chopra has just started throwing after an elbow surgery in May. The 21-year-old is a potential top-six finisher — a huge achievement for a country which has only Anju Bobby George’s bronze from 2003 to brag about — but the official is sensible enough to dissuade Chopra from taking the risk of returning to competition too early.
In Chopra’s absence, Asian Athletics Championships silver medal winner Shivpal Singh and Annu Rani in the women’s section will try and fill the void. While Annu has been consistent at around 60m, Shivpal’s form has dipped closer to the event. After a commendable 86.23m at the Asians at the same venue, he hasn’t quite reached the same lofty heights. His 76.48 m at Czech Republic is a cause for concern.