After a riveting performance at the recently concluded Asian Athletics Championship, Odisha, where we bagged 29 medals, India would have hoped to emulate a similar performance at the biggest stage of them all, the 2017 IAAF World Athletics Championship which took place from 4th-13th August in London. However, as various events unfolded, India’s hopes of winning medals grew slimmer and slimmer. Eventually, just like the 2015 World Championships in China, the Indian contingent returned home medal-less.
Too slow on the track
India’s hopes for track events medals were riding high on the likes of Mohammad Anas, Arokia Rajiv, Govind Lakshmanan, Kunhu Muhammed, and Amoj Jacob, who did the country proud by winning the highest accolades in their respective events at the Asian Championships. Besides them, Ganapathi Krishnan and Devender Singh were carrying the responsibility of creating wonders at the 20 Kilometre walk event.
However, all the dreams came crashing down at the world championship when none of these runners failed to get close to the Bronze medal.
Anas, who had won Gold in the 400m event at Asian Championship, finished 33rd in the event. Lakshmanan, Gold medal winner in the 5,000m and 10,000m run in Odisha, failed to clinch a medal in London as he finished 31st in the 5,000m event. Gopi Thonakal, who bagged silver in the 10,000m event in Odisha, finished 28th the Marathon event in London. Siddhanth Thingalaya added to the misery to the Indian runners as he finished 31st in the 110m hurdles race.
The 4×400 relay team, comprising of Anas, Jacob, Rajiv, and Kunhu, was the same that had won the Gold medal at Asian Championships. However, disappointment was in the cards for the Indians as they failed to qualify for the finals and finished 10th. Interestingly, their timing of 3.02.80 at the world championship was the team’s season best. This little detail certainly puts the standard of our “best timings” in perspective.
Our women runners were equally disappointing if not more. While the likes of Dutee Chand, Nirmala Sheoran, Anilda Thomas, and M.R. Poovamma helped India win 5-6 medals altogether in the continental Championships, they failed to win a single medal at the Worlds.
Chand had won Bronze in the 100m event in Odisha, and despite being in good form, she finished 38th, citing an incomplete recovery from viral fever as the reason for it. On the other hand, 400m winner in Asian Athletics Championships, Nirmala Sheoran finished 22nd in the World Championships. Monika Athare was India’s only hope in the Marathon event, and she failed to live up to the expectations surrounding her as she finished a woeful 64th.
The women’s 4x400m team, just like the men, had clinched the Gold Medal in Odisha. However, the women’s comprising of Chand, Poovamma, Thomas, and Jisna Mathew, also failed to perform to their potential as they suffered disqualification in the very first round itself.
Athletes took to the field, but did they really turn up?
The story remains unchanged as far as field events are concerned. The men’s contingent clinched 4 medals in the Asian championship, with wonder boy Neeraj Chopra and Davinder Singh Kang winning Gold and Bronze respectively in the Javelin Throw event. Neeraj Chopra, in fact, had set a new Championship Record with his 85.23m throw.
As much as both the athletes would have eyed a repeat of their performance in Odisha, it simply was not meant to be after Chopra finished a dreadful 15th. Shockingly, Neeraj even failed to qualify for the finals. Davinder, for his part, provided some cheer for the expectant audience back home by qualifying for the finals where he, disappointingly, finished 12th.
Women’s poor show continued on the field as well. They only added to the wretched run of Indian athletes at the world championships.
As a Bronze medallist at the Asian championship, stakes were high at the worlds for Annu Rani to better her male counterparts’ performances. However, even she fell short of a Bronze by a whopping 39 places as she finished a disastrous 42nd.
What has gone wrong every time?
India has participated in every edition of Athletics World Championships since 1983. However, they have failed to win a single medal each time except in 2003 when Anju Bobby George clinched Bronze for India in the Long Jump Event. This year, despite being in prime form, the Indian contingent failed to capitalize on it, and they neglected to reciprocate their performance in Odisha.
Somewhere, the infrastructure and training available for our athletes are not at par with international standards. Till they become so, no matter how hard our men and women try, they are not going to come any closer to countries like USA, Great Britain, China and even Kenya, who finished 2nd in this year’s world championship. Our preparation for the next edition needs to start today and not six months before the games, and this is where we lag behind from other super powers.
Let’s hope that other state federations take inspiration from the Odisha government, which set up a world class facility in just 90 days, to provide its athletes the best equipment, environment, and coaching possible. As far as athletes are concerned, they need to do their homework before every Championship, and they need to learn how to cope up with enormous pressure on stages as big as IAAF World Athletics Championships. They have the potential, but they need the right kind of guidance.