Tokyo Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra will carry India’s hopes of ending a long medal wait at the 2022 World Athletics Championships which gets underway in Eugene, Oregon, in the United States on Friday.
Looking to make a mark at the global alongside Chopra will be long jumper Murali Sreeshankar, the javelin champion’s roommate in Tokyo.
India’s only medal in the history of the World Athletics Championships is the bronze that Anju Bobby George won at the 2003 edition in Paris.
Neeraj Chopra leads the way
Chopra started his season late with an eye on the now-postponed Asian Games but nevertheless, hit the ground running.
In Finland, in his first event since Tokyo, he threw a new national record 89.30m at the Paavo Nurmi Games to finish second. He followed it up with a 86.69m first-placed throw at the Kuortane Games under treacherous conditions. Chopra then bettered his national record again at the Stockholm Diamond league with a 89.94m which saw him finish second behind world champion Anderson Peters who threw 90.31m.
Breaching the 90m mark has been Chopra’s aim for a long time and he came within six centimetres of achieving that milestone in Stockholm. With a solid and consistent start to the season, Chopra hoped Eugene will see him once again throw the 800 gm javelin sailing over his current best. That could well mean going past the 90m.
“The preparation has been good and my confidence level is high. In the three events I took part, I had done two personal best marks and won one. I have been consistent. I can do better (and get past 90m). It was just six cm short of the 90m mark in Stockholm. So hopefully I can do my best in the World Championships,” he said in a virtual interaction organised by the Sports Authority of India.
Chopra will once again be up against reigning world champion Peters of Grenada who has three 90m+ throws this season with his 93.07m throw at the Doha Diamond League putting him fifth in the all-time list.
Peters is gunning to be become the first male javelin thrower to win back-to-back world titles since the legendary Jan Zelezny achieved the feat in 1993-95.
Tokyo silver medallist Jakub Vadlejch is the only other man to throw 90m+ this season. Finland’s Oliver Helander, Germany’s Julian Weber, London Olympics champions Keshorn Walcott and two-time Olympic bronze medalist Vitezslav Vesely are also coming into the World Championships in good form.
Shoulder issues, however, have meant that superstar Johannes Vetter will be absent.
Rohit Yadav is the other Indian in the men’s javelin throw event with the World Championships providing the 21-year-old his first opportunity to compete against the world’s best throwers. He couldn’t hope for a better scenario for his debut, hanging around the best in the world and looking to learning a thing or two.
Sreeshankar interestingly placed
M Sreeshankar, meanwhile, leads a six-member strong Indian team of long and triple jumpers in Eugene and the Kerala athlete has a solid chance to finish on the podium.
The Palakkad native’s 8.36m is the joint second-best this season along with Tokyo champion Miltiadis Tentoglou with Swiss jumper Simon Ehammer’s 8.45m leap topping the season chart.
Sreeshankar has shrugged off the disappointment of not making the finals at Tokyo Olympics and has focused on competing with the best jumpers over the year.
“Getting big jumps at big-ticket events comes with experience. When I went to Greece recently, I got two high-quality competitions. I competed with World Indoors silver medallist Thobias Montler, and I was happy to get an edge over him in my event,” he said in a SAI interaction in June.
“At the World Indoor Championships, held in March in Belgrade, I had a decent result too. Now the field is more familiar to me because I have competed against them a few times.”
Long jumper Jeswin Aldrin was omitted from the Oregon-bound Indian squad after the Athletics Federation of India ruled that his performances were ‘consistently going down’. However, the Tamil Nadu jumper was a last-minute addition after he jumped 7.99m and 7.93m at two selection trials that were held in Thiruvananthapuram and Patiala.
Aldrin’s omission in the first instance raised eyebrows as the Tamil Nadu jumper was one of the 12 out of 32 jumpers at the World Championships to have qualified by achieving the qualification mark of 8.22m. Muhammed Anees Yahiya with a season best jump of 8.15m is the third Indian in long jump.
In the men’s triple jump event, Abdulla Aboobacker (SB: 17.19m), Praveen Chithravel (SB: 17.18m) and Eldhose Paul (SB: 16.99m) will be gunning to reach the finals.
Consistently improving Avinash Sable
Steeplechaser Avinash Sable has had a good start to the season so far having bettered the national record twice with his 8:12.48 in Morocco seeing him finish fifth. He has a knack of improving his best effort consistently, just as he did in Tokyo and if he can do that once again, it will be another feather in his cap.
Sable, who has been training in Colorado Springs, believes a sub-8 timing is something achievable for him soon. On his track to achieving that, if he can shave time off his PB, it’d be another notable achievement.
Sable's best 3000m steeplechase timings
|05 JUN 2022||Meeting International Mohammed VI d'Athletisme de Rabat, Complexe Sportif Prince Moulay Abdellah, Rabat||MAR||8:12.48|
|23 MAR 2022||Indian Grand Prix, Thiruvanthapuram||IND||8:16.21|
|30 JUL 2021||The XXXII Olympic Games, National Stadium, Tokyo||JPN||8:18.12|
|17 MAR 2021||Federation Cup, Patiala||IND||8:20.20|
|04 OCT 2019||IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Khalifa International Stadium, Doha||QAT||8:21.37|
|05 MAR 2021||Indian Grand Prix 3, Patiala||IND||8:24.40|
|01 OCT 2019||IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Khalifa International Stadium, Doha||QAT||8:25.23|
|19 MAY 2022||USATF Distance Classic, Hilmer Lodge Stadium, Walnut, CA||USA||8:25.82|
|18 MAR 2019||Federation Cup, Patiala||IND||8:28.94|
|28 SEP 2018||Bhubaneshwar Indian Open Ch., Bhubaneshwar||IND||8:29.80|
Tajinderpal Singh Toor was the the first Indian field athlete to qualify for the World Championships after he threw 21.10m in June last year to meet the entry standard. However, the 27-year-old suffered an injury last year and since his comeback, has managed to throw 20m+ just once this season.
The 4x400m men’s relay team of Muhammed Anas, Noah Nirmal Tom, Arokia Rajiv and Amoj Jacob smashed the Asian record at the Tokyo Olympics with a time of 3:00.25 which also booked their place in the World Championships.
However, with Amoj Jacob pulling out due to an injury and Rajiv failing to make the cut, there will be additional responsibility on Anas and Nirmal Tom to lead the team which also consists of Muhammed Ajmal, Naganathan Pandi and Rajesh Ramesh.
The women’s contingent is four-member strong as things stand. Javelin thrower Annu Rani’s 63.82m throw in May this year is the eight-best in the women’s field this season. Only five of the 10 throwers who qualified via entry standard have thrown further than Rani this season giving the Uttar Pradesh athlete confidence going into the event.
There will also be some focus on quarter-miler Aishwarya Mishra who has had issues surrounding her whereabouts, but on the field she clocked the third-fastest time by an Indian when she won the 400m race at the Federation Cup.
Her time of 51.18 seconds caught the eye of the Athletics Integrity Unit but testers from both the AIU and the AFI were unable to trace her. Mishra’s brother defended her saying that she had gone to Varanasi to tend to her ailing grandmother, according to News9.
Elsewhere, 20km race walkers Sandeep Kumar and Priyanka Goswami were the first Indians to qualify for the Worlds after meeting the entry standards at the Indian race walking championships in February 2021. Since then however, neither athelete has able to match or better their timings.
400m hurdler MP Jabir fell short of bettering his personal best of 49.13 at the inter-state meet in June, but it was enough for him to win the event. His timing of 49.76 seconds, however, is only the 80th best timing in the season.
However, India’s hopes of a first podium finish since Anju Bobby George’s solitary World Championship medal falls mainly on the shoulders of Chopra, and perhaps the legs of Sreeshankar.
Indian men's squad for Eugene 2022
|Athlete||Event||Season best result||Season best rank|
|Avinash Sable||3000m Steeplechase|| 08:12.28 min||12|
|MP Jabir||400m Hurdles|| 49.76s||80|
|M Sreeshankar||Long Jump||8.36m||2|
|Muhammed Anees Yahiya||Long Jump||8.15m||15|
|Jeswin Aldrin||Long Jump||8.26m||7|
|Abdulla Aboobacker||Triple Jump||17.19m||10|
|Praveen Chithravel||Triple Jump||17.18m||11|
|Eldhose Paul||Triple Jump||16.99m||21|
|Tajinderpal Singh Toor||Shot put||20.34m||52|
|Neeraj Chopra||Javelin Throw||89.94m||3|
|Rohit Yadav||Javelin Throw||82.54m||26|
|Sandeep Kumar||20km Race Walking||1.22.05 hr||60|
|Muhammed Anas, Noah Nirmal Tom, Muhammed Ajmal, Naganathan Pandi, Rajesh Ramesh|| 4x400m relay|| 3:04.41 min||35|
Indian Women's squad for Eugene 2022
|Athlete||Event||Season best result||Season best rank|
|Aishwarya Kailash Mishra||400m||51.18s||38|
|Parul Chaudhary||3000m Steeplechase||09.38.29min||65|
|Annu Rani||Javelin Throw||63.82m||8|
|Priyanka Goswami||20km Walk||1.38.10hr||117|
The World Athletics Championship – Oregon 2022 will be broadcast live in India on SONY TEN 2 and SONY SIX and will be streamed online on SonyLIV.