Chief athletics coach Bahadur Singh talks about the challenges the Indian athletics squad face at the Asian Games and also lists out the strengths. Excerpts
India won three medals in athletics at the Glasgow Games. What are our prospects at Incheon?
The competition in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games is different. For example, in the discus throw Seema Antil won the silver medal at Glasgow. The gold was won by the current World champion. Middle and long distance races see the participation of athletes from countries like Jamaica and Kenya.
How has the competition changed over the past decade at the Asian Games?
Previously, we faced competition from the Soviet bloc and China but since the last two Asian games, there has been a trend of African athletes representing the Gulf countries. Some of them are offered the citizenship of these countries and we get to know about these athletes when we reach the Asian Games village. A country like Bahrain won nine medals, including five gold last time. In long distance and discus throw, the level is that of the Olympics. China won 38 medals in the last Asian Games and we won 12 medals and came second.
We have to bridge the gap if we want to do well in the Olympics too. But the Asian Games is a stepping stone.
Athletes like Arpinder Singh and Siddhanth Thinglaya are youngsters with promise. How do you rate their performance?
Arpinder and Siddhanth both have been doing well. The only weakness is lack of exposure. Arpinder has been constantly crossing the 17.10 metre mark here in India and same goes for Siddhanth, who has been running sub 14 seconds in the 110 M hurdles. Look at discus thrower Vikas Gowda, who won the gold at Glasgow. He has improved because he has been practicing with some of the world’s best athletes and competes at the world level regularly. Exposure is key to success.
The women’s 4 X 400 M team clocked 3:29.93 at the trials held earlier this week. How do you rate their performance?
Our strength in this event is that all the six runners in the relay squad are competitive. With the return of Ashwini Akkunji and Mandeep Kaur, we have experience in the squad. Povamma, who is younger, has been constantly clocking under 51 seconds. The other teams mostly have one good runner but that is not the case with our team. Participating in a competition will always benefit athletes. I am expecting a gold medal from the team this time too.