The IAAF World Athletics Championships will kick off in Doha, Qatar, on Friday evening with the young S Sreeshankar providing the opening act for the Indian contingent in the long jump event.
Long jumper Anju Bobby George is the only Indian to ever win a medal at the World Championship and that record is unlikely to change this year despite the euphoria surrounding the performance of some of the athletes at the invitational meets in Europe, where most of them were training for over two months.
Anju in a recent interview said as much when she said that the focus of the Indian contingent should be to reach the final. “I don’t think we have sure-shot medal winners this time. But we have athletes who have the quality to reach the finals and they should ensure that first,” she was quoted as saying by The Telegraph.
Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, who last year bagged the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games gold, would have been India’s only medal hope at the championships but the 21-year-old opted out as he has not completely recovered from an elbow injury that has kept him out of competition for over six months now.
But in his absence, Asian Championships gold medallist Shivpal Singh would be expected to at least reach the finals, a feat achieved by Davinder Singh Kang in the last edition at London. Even Annu Rani has a chance to make it to the last 12 in the women’s competition. She has been throwing consistently above the 60m mark and if she can come up with her best performance in Doha, qualifying for the final would be a realistic goal.
But before that, Sreeshankar would be expected to set the ball rolling in the long jump pit in his first World Championships appearance.
The 20-year-old, who holds the national record with a 8.20m jump, will need to clear the 8.15m mark for automatic qualification or make it to the final as the 12 best athletes in case not many manage to clear the distance during qualifying. But a medal would either need a special performance or a lucky break.
It will be a similar story for most Indian athletes at the World Championships which will see the biggest stars descend in Doha. A medal is too far-fetched a thought and improving their personal bests will be a realistic target for all the Indian athletes.
Over the years, India’s 400m relay teams have been considered the best medal bets in major competitions and it would have been no different this time around as well if not for injuries to Hima Das and Arokia Rajiv, who were key to India’s gold medal-winning show in the 2018 Asian Games.
Junior World Champion Das was ruled out at the last minute due to a lower back injury and the primary target for the relay teams would be to reach the final and qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
Among other contestants, Dutee Chand in women’s 100m, Jinson Jonson in men’s 1500m, and marathoner Gopi T are the other athletes who will look to make a mark at the event.