After a golden run in Asian Games, it will be time for a sterner test for the India’s track and field heroes as they line up for the IAAF Continental Cup being staged in Ostrava, Czech Republic, during the weekend.
Six Indian athletes have been selected to be part of the Asia Pacific team squad that will take on teams representing Africa, Europe and Americas. The performance of the Indian athletes will be a good yardstick to measure their potential against some of the world’s top athletes.
Neeraj Chopra lived up to his star billing in Jakarta, hurling the javelin to 88.06 metres to win the gold. Currently based in in Finland where he is training under coach Uwe Hohn, the former under-20 world champion has been steadily improving his personal best and is aiming to touch the magical mark of 90 metres. Before his gold winning effort in the Asian Games where he bettered his own national record, Neeraj had a personal best of 87.43 metres. A regular in the elite Diamond League meets where he gets to compete again the best javelin throwers in the world, the 20-year-old recently finished fourth in the Diamond League final in Zurich last week.
With the likes of world champion Johannes Vetter and Andreas Hofmann not taking part, Neeraj would fancy his chance for a podium finish. Germany’s Thomas Rohler is the firm favourite for the gold medal. The gold medallist at Rio Olympics had a season best of 91.78 metres and recently bagged the European title in Berlin. Another German heavyweight in the event is Jakub Vadlejch who is ahead of Neeraj, having touched 89 metres this season.
2015 world champion Julius Yego of Kenya, representing Africa in Continental Cup, has hit 92 metres in the past but had a disappointing Commonwealth Games. He could not even make the cut for the final where Neeraj won the gold.
Arpinder Singh first hit the headlines on the international stage with a bronze medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. But a steady slide in his performance thereafter meant he was no longer in the reckoning. A forgettable training stint in England hampered his progress and he returned home. Coached by Bedros Bedrosian, the national jump coach from Romania, Arpinder began to regain his touch. Though his jump in Asian Games of 16.77 metres is not going to cause any flutter among the top competitors in Ostrava, it will be a big confidence boost for him if he can come improve on his personal best of 17.17 metres.
The battle for the top place in this event is expected to be between world and Olympic champion Christian Taylor of the United States and Pedro Pablo Pichardo of Portugal. Taylor’s season best leap of 17.81m, has only been bettered by Pichardo with a jump of 17.95m. The other rivals of Arpinder in the event include Cristian Napoles of Cuba (season best of 17.34 m), Godfrey Mokoena of South Africa (SB 16.92m) and Nelson Evora of Portugal (SB 17.10m). Arpinder has touched the 17m mark just once this season but a world-class field in Ostrava might bring out the best from the 26-year-old.
India’s veteran woman steeplechaser Sudha Singh will face a strong African challenge. A gold medallist at the Asian Games in 2010, she had failed to repeat her good performance in the subsequent international meets. A silver medal at Jakarta was a perfect riposte to her critics who had written her off after she failed to make the cut for the Indian team for the Commonwealth Games. In the Asian Games, she finished second behind Winfred Yavi — a Kenyan representing Bahrain. In an event which has been a strong bastion of African-born runners, Beatrice Chepkoeche of Kenya is the hot favourite. Beatrice has been in the form of her life having creating a new world record with a time of 08:44:32. Courtney Freirichs of United States and Yavi are the other challengers to Chepkoeche’s dominance. With the World Championships slated next year, Sudha will be looking to improve on her personal best timing of 09:26:55 to make an impact.
Muhammad Anas will once again lock horns in the 400m with his nemesis at the Asian Games — Qatar’s Sudanese import — Abdellah Haroun. Anas bagged a silver with finishing with a time of 45.69 seconds behind Haroun who clocked 44.89 seconds.
With some of the prominent names missing in action, it will be a good opportunity for Anas to aim for a top position. According to his coaches, Anas will need to aim for a sub-45 seconds to make an impression. Haroun’s best time this season has been 44.07, achieved at the London Diamond League meet. Botswana’s Baboloki Thebe of Bostwana, Nathan Strother of USA and Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic will be the runners to watch out for.
Jinson Johnson has been creating waves ever since he broke the 42-year-old national record in the 800 metres held by Sriram Singh. Upstaged by contemporary Manjit Singh in the 800 metres in the Asian Games, Johnson wants to focus on 1500m with an eye on the Tokyo Olympics, an event where he bagged a gold in Jakarta. The Kerala athlete holds the national record in the 1500m as well, thanks to his fifth-place finish at the Commonwealth Games this year. Timings can be misleading in a 1500m as it is decided mostly by the strategy of the runners taking part in a particular race. The Kerala athlete romped home clocking 3:44.72 in Jakarta while the gold at Rio Olympics was bagged by Mathew Centrowitz of USA with a timing of 3:50:00, significantly slower than Johnson. Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway and George Manangoi along with his elder sibling Elijah will be the top contenders in the race.
PU Chitra has been one of the top runners in Asia in this event and she displayed her prowess winning the 2017 Asian Championship. But at the Asian Games, she had to be content with a third-place finish, edged out by the Bahrain pair of Kalkidan Befkadu and Tigist Belay. The biggest challenge for Chitra in Ostrava will come from USA's Shelby Houlihan and the African heavyweights — Winnie Chebet and Rababe Arafi.
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Updated Date: Sep 07, 2018 13:16:25 IST