IAAF World Athletics Championships 2017: Swapna Barman's dismal show highlights lack of international exposure

There is a tradition in the heptathlon that after the event is over, all the athletes, in this case 31 of them, come together and take a lap of the stadium, waving to the fans. These are the true gladiatrix competing over seven events in two days to accumulate points and win gold. In the mix on Sunday evening was Swapna Barman, the 21-year-old Indian from Kolkata. She ended up 26th with 5431 points. London should have seen her push herself to breaking point. The puzzling question would always remain that in perfect conditions with such a high calibre of athletes in the fray, why couldn’t she connect the dots.

"I did my best and this would help me in future competitions," she said later.

Swapna Barman makes an attempt in the javelin throw of the heptathlon during the World Athletics Championships in London. AP

Swapna Barman makes an attempt in the javelin throw of the heptathlon during the World Athletics Championships in London. AP

In the Asian Athletic Championships, Barman finished with 5942 and won the gold. Bettering those points here in London would have taken her into the top 20 athletes and a major boost in motivation for the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games to come. There is no doubt that she is a solid bet for gold at the Jakarta 2018 Asian Games. In the last Incheon Games, Uzbekistan’s Ekaterina Voronina won the gold with 5912 points. Being on the podium at the Commonwealth Games is slightly more difficult as the winner usually crosses 6500.

But take a look at the top five finishers in the Heptathlon and compare achievements with Barman. The gold medal-winner Nafissataou Thiam is the reigning Olympic champion and a former European junior champion; Carolin Schafer, the silver winner is a former World junior champion and finished fifth in Rio; Anouk Vetter, the bronze medal winner is European champion and finished 10th in Rio; Yorgelis Rodrigeuz, who improved a staggering eight centimetres in the high jump alone is a 2012 junior world champion and finished 7th at Rio Games and Britain’s Katrina Johnson-Thompson is a former world junior long jump champion with 6.81 metres and finished 6th in Rio.


The question is not about talent here. It’s the push athletes require to be able to compete at the highest level on a consistent and regular basis. After winning the Asian gold, Barman said, "Competing at the World Championships is good exposure. But we need to go for regular competitions which are smaller across Europe. I don’t know where they are held. But that would increase work load and see if our training is successful or not."

There are external factors too that work in Barman’s life. She takes care of her family and so common sense tells her that an Asian Games gold is more valuable as that gives a job security plus funds to take care of more pressing concerns.

Siddhanth Thingalaya, who trains in the US and competed in the 110 metres hurdles finished seventh in his heat with a timing of 13.64. In the Asian Athletic Championships, he finished 5th with 13.72. So London definitely is an improvement except that in his case, he had qualified for the World Championships by timing 13.48 in a meet in the United States ratified by the IAAF – the Altis Invitational in Arizona. Running around the same time would have seen him qualify for the semi-finals. For someone who bank rolls himself and takes help from his parents for training expenses, London would be disappointing.

In fact, Nirmla Sheoran had a good run in the 400 metres with a time of 52.01. It could have been better if only she hadn’t slackened off in the last 10 metres or so. Instead of being the last to qualify, she could have been higher in the pecking order. Running on Monday in the semi-finals, she is in heat two right next to Allyson Felix, the nine-time world champion. Shericka Jackson and Novlene Williams Mills both from Jamaica and in the same heat have personal bests of below 50. For Nirmla to qualify for the final, she would have to crack 51 at least and in the process also beat the national record of 51.05 set by Manjeet Kaur. When you have pace-setters like Allyson Felix and the two Jamaicans, anything is truly possible.

Lashawn Merritt, Wayde Van Niekerk, and Baboloki Thebe, compete in a men's 400m semifinal during the World Athletics Championships in London. AP

Lashawn Merritt, Wayde Van Niekerk, and Baboloki Thebe compete in a men's 400m semifinal during the World Athletics Championships in London. AP

But the track event that had everyone in a tizzy was the men's 400 metres where Steve Gardiner of the Bahamas qualified for the final with a breath-taking time of 43.89. It was a new national record for Gardiner. The other seven runners which includes Olympic champion and world record holder Wayde Van Niekerk and Botswana’s Issac Makwala all did 44 plus. South African Wayde who has a 9.94 in the 100 metres had run 43.03 at the Rio Olympics which stunned the world and shocked Usain Bolt too.

After his semis, Wayde said, “Every time we get on the track it seems as though we go to break 44 seconds. It is good competition but it just means I always have to be on my game.” Wayde will also be running the 200 metres and is said to be the reason why Bolt didn’t want to run the race at the World Championships.


The Jamaican super-star has always maintained that Wayde is the next thing in international track. With the way things are going in this World Championships, you might see a Botswanan or even Steve Gardiner upset the South African Olympic champion. As Michael Johnson, the former American 400 metres world record holder, whose 17-year-old record Wayde shattered in Rio, said, "The track is good and these guys can fly. These Championships are throwing up a few surprises and we might end up seeing one."

If the Jamaicans hoped for atonement in the women’s 100 metres, they were dead wrong. Elaine Thompson, the reigning Olympic champion showed enough class in the semi-finals to be the favourite. But like in the 100 metres men’s race, the women’s saw super starts from American Tori Bowie and Ivory Coast’s Marie-Josee Ta Lou who clinched the gold and silver in 10.85 and 10.86. In fact, for Ta Lou, it was her personal best. Unable to regain ground after a shocking start of 0.200, the worst in the final, almost like Usain Bolt, Elaine finished 5th. Jamaica has been shocked in the sprints. The USA is back.

Elaine Thompson said, "I have to give those three girls a lot of credit, so a big congratulations to them. I didn't execute my race which is a shame but I'm healthy. My start was not great. The blocks were slightly down when I drove out. Maybe I was unfortunate. But I made it back into the race."

Ta Lou had the race wrapped up till the last millisecond but a dive from Torie deprived her of the gold. "I am just happy to have this medal,” said Ta Lou. “It's a dream come true. I didn't expect to be in the top three because all the girls have the power and talent to make the podium.”

Torie Bowie was ecstatic. "The dive doesn't feel too good now,” she said with a smile that lit up the press conference. “That has saved me at championships in the past. I never give up until I'm over the line. Ta Lou went away fast but she always is. It didn't bother me and I just kept pumping my legs and arms until the finish. I have a few cuts but I'll be ready for the 200 metres."

To say India was disappointed with the women’s javelin would be an understatement. National record holder Annu Rani, who had qualified for the World Championships with a throw of 61.86 metres and is a 2014 Asian Games bronze medallist could only throw a highest of 59.93, 57.34 and 57.16. Three Chinese qualified for the javelin final one of them being Li Lingwei, who beat Annu Rani at the Asian Athletics with a throw of 63.06. It was well-known that Rani had to throw in excess of 62 plus for any remote chance of qualifying. That she went below her personal best would be deeply distressing.


Published Date: Aug 07, 2017 05:31 pm | Updated Date: Aug 07, 2017 05:31 pm



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