At the end of the four days of athletics events, India topped the medal tally with 22 —13 gold, five silver and four bronze — at the 18th Asian Games Invitational Tournament in Jakarta. India even pipped Asian powerhouse China. But to extrapolate the medal count at the Asiad in August based on success of Indian athletes this week would be unwise.
Some events had only one participant, only 10 countries fielded athletes, including hosts Indonesia. Some of them were junior and youth athletes and even the seasoned campaigners were looking to test waters at the Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium.
There is a reason why the Athletics Federation of India has decided not to consider performances at the invitational event when the CWG team is picked.
On Tuesday L Suriya won the gold and clocked a personal best in the 5,000 metres. She was the only competitor in the field. A day earlier, Saritaben Gayakwad won the women’s 400 metres hurdles gold. She was one of two athletes in the entry list. In a field of just three athletes in the women’s long jump India’s V Neena and Nayana James won bronze and silver respectively on the first day of the competition. The women’s 400 metre final, in which athletes from India won gold and silver was also a three-horse race.
The sparse start lists for the Asian Games test event were also seen in the women’s shot put — two participants — which was won by China’s Tianqian Guo. The same was the case in the women’s javelin throw and the women’s 3000m steeplechase. Only three participated in the men’s shot put final. Only one team was on track for the women’s 4×400 metre final. The young Indian quartet, including 18-year-old Hima Das took the only medal on offer, the gold, with a timing of 3:37.76. In the shorter women’s relay, the Indonesian team was the only participant.
According to the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) secretary CK Valson IAAF rules state that medals can be given in an individual event only if there are at least three or more entries. In relay events, rules specify two or more teams. All winners were given medals at the Asian Games test event.
“As this was a test event, medals were given even if there was only one participant,” Valson said. “In all, there were only 10 countries. One of the reasons for a smaller turnout could be the cost of travel or the fact that many top athletes are focussed on the Commonwealth Games in April. Moreover, this is a test event so it was conducted to ensure that the technical equipment is in order and also as a dry run for officials. The last time Indonesia hosted a large-scale athletics event was in 2000,” Valson said.
The AFI also didn’t field their ‘A’ team at the test event. “We picked a relatively young squad because we wanted to give exposure to athletes at the venue where athletics events would be held at the Asiad. Suriya improved on her personal best though she was the only athlete in the final and there was nobody to push her. This experience will help if she travels for the Asiad ,” Valson added.
Athletes likely to be part of the squad for the Commonwealth Games — to be held in April — were not selected because the selection committee didn’t want to disrupt their training schedule. Some others training outside the national camps were ignored for the event. Not all events were plagued by lack of competition. For example, seven athletes ran the men’s 100 metres final in which India’s Elakkiya Dasan won the bronze (10.38s). Jithu Baby won silver in the 400 metres final by clocking 46.88 (personal best) in a field of seven.
Valson confirmed that the performances at the Asian Games Invitational Tournament will not be considered when the selection committee meets.