In a record-breaking performance, team India bagged 29 medals to register its highest ever medal tally at the Asian Athletics Championships. It was the perfect way to end a tournament that had already been grabbing headlines for its world-class preparations. Clearly, the Odisha government left no stone unturned when it came putting up the best possible show and the results were evident. From names like Sebastian Coe dubbing the arrangements as “world class” to the complete smoothness with which the events were carried out, the Asian Athletics Championships were clearly a success.
12 Gold medals are no mean feat. It certainly is cause for celebration as India bettered their previous best of 22 overall medals ( Jakarta, 1985). Undoubtedly, however, the Asian Athletics Championship is quite a limited stage. A continental event focussed on Athletics only, it is only fitting to compare India’s performance in Odisha this year to the athletics team performances on other world stages over the years.
In 2005, The Asian Athletics Championships were held in Incheon. India boasted of 12 medals overall and ended up with a commendable fourth place finish on the medals table. China’s stronghold from the previous editions of the competitions remained unchallenged. The difference in the number of medals between China and the second placed Japan was that of 9 medals. Qatar finished third with 11 medals, and with 4 Golds and 5 Silvers, India was the next name on the tally list.
The men’s contingent was less than successful with no contribution towards the haul of Gold at all. True to his legacy, Vikas Gowda finished the tournament with a Silver medal while another silver was earned by India’s Navpreet Singh who missed out on Gold by 0.05m. Manjeet Kaur, Anju Bobby George, Soma Biswas and the women’s 4×400 mt relay team struck gold.
Later that year in Helsinki, the World Championships ended with India nowhere in the picture. Zero medals and the disappointed expectations of an entire nation followed. A similar situation was repeated in the Asian Games the following year when Athletics fetched only 8 out of the total of 53 medals that India won overall. One gold came from the women’s relay team and once again, the contribution of the men’s contingent was zero. All 8 medals from the tournament were picked up by women.
Before the commencement of the Asian Athletics Championship this year, Sebastian Coe’s visit provided several valuable insights into the sports system of India. The President of the IAAF has several high hopes of India when it comes to excelling in athletics. According to Coe, a similarly enthusiastic marketing strategy coupled with the country’s immense love for sports would go a long way in producing more world class athletes from the country.
“Asia has the potential with about 60 percent of the world’s young. It understands the sport and we need to make sure that the young understand our sport better. China and Japan have shown the way,” he was quoted as saying.
How far has India been able to capitalise on this? For the answer, one need only look at India’s unsatisfactory record in the World Championships. Back in 2003, Anju Bobby George struck up a phenomenal 6.70m jump to win the bronze medal. With that, she became the first Indian to win a medal at the elite competition and, till date, she remains the only one to boast of this remarkable feat.
The year 2009 proved to be a little better for the athletics framework here as a certain level of consistency was maintained. With 12 medals at the Asian Athletics Championships and an equal number picked up at the 2010 Asian Games, Indian athletes portrayed their determination to shine on the international stage irrespective of the scale of the event. Joseph Abraham who won a silver in the 400m Men’s Hurdle event at the AAC in 2009, bettered his performance with a gold in the same event at the Asian Games. The women’s relay team, with a silver at the Asian Athletics Championship, picked up a Gold at the following Asian Games. Kavita Raut was largely consistent in both tournaments as was Sudha Singh. The World Championships, true to habit, fetched nothing.
Fast forward to the next editions of the Asian Athletics Championship and the Asian Games in 2013 and 2014 respectively, the big names who stood out included the likes of Tintu Luka, MR Poovamma, Sudha Singh and Vikas Gowda. Out of the 57 medals at the Asian Games, 13 were attributed to the athletes. Vikas Gowda, Rajiv Arokia, Inderjeet Singh and Naveen Kumar were the only men to put up performances worthy of a podium finish.
With a wonderfully motivating performance in Odisha, the Indian team has managed to do something quite noteworthy. The stronghold that China seems to exude over most track and field events was broken. If one was being overly sceptical, it could be said that most of the top athletes in Asia gave the tournament a miss due to having already qualified for the World Championships to be held in London later this year. The talent India showcased in Odisha is certainly encouraging but there can be no doubt about the fact that there is still a long way to go.