India may have won 12 gold medals at the Asian Athletics Championships, but not many out of those 10 individual gold winners match the qualification criteria/entry standards for the World Championships in London next month.
Taking into account their winning contributions in Odisha, only Neeraj Chopra, Nirmala Sheoran and Manpreet Kaur’s marks were enough to qualify automatically for the World Championships based on the world body’s recommended qualification standards, even though all winners at the Asian Athletics Championships get a direct pass to the London Championships.
Out of the remaining seven, only Mohammad Anas had previously qualified directly to the Worlds on account of his seasonal best, 45.32 seconds, being below the 45.50 seconds mark set by the International Association of Athletics Federations. The two relay teams qualify on account of their official IAAF ranking.
Arriving a month before London, countries such as Japan and China decided to rest athletes who had already qualified, while the pull-out of nations such as Bahrain significantly weakened the athletes.
Although it was raining on the day that India won double golds in the 400-metre and the 1,500-metre events, the timing of the competitors was not far from their seasonal bests as the timings above show.
With rankings up to 400 available on the official IAAF website, it isn’t difficult to see that most of the athletes miss the qualification standards or just make it and are far off the top times in the world set by their peers this year.
It is also interesting to see that barring Davinder Singh Kang pushing Neeraj Chopra all the way in the javelin throw, none of the top-ranked Indian athletes were really pushed by their compatriots.
Arokia Rajiv, Thonakal Gopi, Jisna Mathew and Purnima Hembram all got medals in disciplines won by Indians, but were unable to push Mohammad Anas, Govindan Lakshmanan, Nirmala Sheoran and Swapna Barman, who won their respective events comfortably.
The below charts show the deviation of the marks set by the winners in their respective finals and their seasonal bests from the IAAF World Championship standards. Positive deviations (lesser time than WC standards/higher marks/throws) are marked in green while the negative ones are marked out in red.
World Championship field will be more elitist than Rio
Although it was India’s best ever Asian Athletics Championships’ return with 12 golds, five silvers and 12 bronze medals, it has to be seen in the perspective of the competition from the rest of the world.
Even Chopra’s best in London may not be enough for a medal. Johannes Vetter’s 94.44-metre throw in Lucerne recently showed how much the young Javelin thrower from Haryana will have to improve in order to win a World Championship medal.
In 15 editions of the IAAF World Championships, Anju Bobby George’s long jump bronze in 2003 remains till date the only medal won by India at the biennial event. Sixty six countries have won gold at the Championships, but India is not one of those.
For long-distance running, the deviation of the runners’ best times this season from the IAAF Qualification Standards can be explained in some of the cases as slow, tactical races being run. This was on show during the Rio Olympics’ men’s 1,500-metre race, where Matthew Centrowitz Junior won with a time of 3:50:00, the fastest since 1932.
However, a closer look at the 10 longest standing national records show a particular malaise in men’s long-distance running as they’ve stood for large periods of time, while qualification times have steadily fallen.
National records still standing not a healthy sign
Out of the 43 disciplines at the IAAF World Championships next month, 10 national records have stood for at least 13 years or more.
Out of these 10, six are middle- to long-distance running events. The men’s 3,000-metre steeplechase, the men’s 5,000-metre and 100-metre hurdles are events in which even the national records wouldn’t be enough to break through the IAAF World Championship 2017 Entry Standards.
In other cases, such as the 800 metres, where Jinson Johnson’s personal best 1:45:98s in 2016 – the best run by an active Indian athlete – was enough to get him into Rio 2016, the same timing would not suffice for the IAAF World Standards 2017 where the entry mark is 1:45:90s.
The Rio Olympics had standards ‘A’ and ‘B’, the latter to make it a more inclusive event and open to more competitors such as refugees. Rio 2016 saw 34 Indian athletes take part, but the IAAF World Championships’ stricter entry guidelines will mean that far fewer athletes are likely to participate in London.
Tougher to set new standards
With regard to running events, it can be seen that all the criteria (barring the men’s 400 metres) for London 2017 are similar to or more stringent than the standards for Rio 2016.
While 0.10 seconds may seem like a short fraction of time, as the timing for a certain event reduces, the effort in reducing the time taken for a certain distance increases in a parabolic proportion to the same amount of time shaved, as the absolute amount of time itself approaches zero.
For example, a speed increase of 2 kmph will suffice to bring an athlete’s 100-metre timing down from 20 seconds to 18, but the same reduction of two seconds from 12 to 10 will have to result in an increase of 6 kmph.
Since kinetic energy consumed is proportional to the square of the velocity parameter, way more energy is consumed in bringing a 100-metre timing down to 10 seconds from 12 than from 20 seconds to 18.
For a throws event like shot put, where the object in question is lesser likely to be subjected to aerodynamic influence as compared with a javelin or a discus, work exerted by the athlete is proportional to the square of the velocity, the release angle and the height, taking into account ideal conditions with little to no drag force.
Thus, it is tougher to lower the timing in a track event or increase one’s mark in a throw event if one’s initial time/mark is low/high comparatively.
India’s aspiring record breakers will have to strive that much harder if they are to succeed in shaving every microsecond, or throw the discus, hammer, javelin or shot put a centimetre further. But they can draw inspiration from India’s race walkers, who seem to be the closest to cracking the Olympic and world code.
The silver lining in the probable World Championships squad is the new young look that it has due to the wins in Bhubaneshwar. Mohammad Anas (22), Ajay Kumar Saroj (20), Amoj Jacob in the men’s 4X400 metre relay (19), and Jisna Mathew (19) in the women’s, Neeraj Chopra (20), Nirmala Sheoran (21), Chitra PU (22) and Swapna Barman (21) have time on their side to erase old marks and create new ones. AAC 2017 will be remembered as either one of two events: a false dawn or the start of a new chapter for Indian athletics.