Indian athletics preview: Neeraj Chopra the lead but who else can star at Asian Games?

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Neeraj Chopra will headline India’s athletics team as they hope to shine at the Hangzhou Asian Games, pick up medals and some valuable ranking points in the race to qualify for the Paris Olympics.

India finished with 20 medals in athletics [8 golds] In 2018, their best ever campaign was back in 1951 when they won 34 medals. [with 10 golds]. Led by Neeraj, this young brigade is fully capable of rewriting that record at the 2023 Asian Games.

Let’s start with the obvious, gold medal contenders shall we?

India’s #1 medal contender in any major athletics event is reserved for Neeraj. The Olympic champion recently added a World Championship title to his name and finished second in the Diamond League.

He has a major rival in Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem, but Neeraj has what it takes [and more!] to defend his title.

Among the gold medalists expected to join him are:

  • Avinash Sable [3,000m steeplechase]

  • Tajinder Pal Singh Tor [men’s shot put]

  • Jyoti Yaraji [women’s 100m hurdles]

  • Krishan Kumar [800m]

  • Shaili Singh [women’s long jump]

  • Sri Shankar Murali [men’s long jump]

  • 4×400 men’s, women’s and mixed relay teams

Who are the other athletes to watch out for?

Watch out for Ajay Kumar Saroj in the men’s 1500m, Jesswin Aldrin in the men’s long jump and Tejaswin Shankar in the decathlon.

Parul Chowdhury, who ran a brilliant personal best at the worlds, will be in action in the 3,000m steeplechase as well as the 5,000m.

Any fresh faces in the Indian list?

There are several youngsters who have made their mark in the past year.

Jyoti Yaraji, for example, broke the national record seven times in the 100m hurdles! He is the second fastest Asian hurdler and won gold at the Asian Athletics Championships.

Then javelin star Kishore Kumar Jena, who performed extremely well to finish fifth at the World Championships. He has a good chance of winning bronze at the Asian Games.

Not much of a new face to speak of, but Tejaswin Shankar has now become a full-time decathlete and will be hoping to shine in his first major decathlon event.

Krishan Kumar has had a great year in the men’s 800m and goes into the Games ranked #2 in Asia.

And of course, there’s Shaili Singh, widely regarded as the successor to Anju Bobby George. The silver medalist at the U-20 Worlds has a personal best of 6.76m and recently won silver at the Asian Championships.

What about the defending champions?

India’s four: Neeraj, Tajinder, Johnson Johnson [1500m] and Sapna Burman [heptathlon].

Neeraj will continue to do what Neeraj does, while Tajinder is coming back from a groin injury. He is well ahead of the competition – his personal best [also his season best] 21.77m is 0.6m better than its nearest competitor.

Jinson is making a comeback after almost three years and is in good shape. He clocked 3:44.72 to win gold in 2018. He has run faster than that seven times this year, but will face a tougher challenge this time.

Sapna braves toothache and a plastered face to win gold in Jakarta and now heads to China hoping to defend it. He is the national champion, and won silver at the Asian Championships but has decided that the Asian Games will be his last major international event. Here’s hoping his swansong ends up on the top step of the podium.

Any athlete who can win multiple medals?

Yes! Here are a bunch of Indian athletes who will be competing in the two events.

Sable leads the pack with a three-day gap between the steeplechase [his preferred event] and the 5000m race, when Parul is not as lucky as he is on successful race days.

Athletes in the relay team like Aishwarya Kailash Mishra have a chance to win three medals [the maximum available among the Indian track and field athletes at the Games].

  • Avinash Sable [3000m steeplechase + 5000m]

  • Jyoti Yaraji [women’s 100m hurdles + 200m]

  • Parul Chowdhury [3000m steeplechase + 5000m]

  • Gulveer Singh [men’s 5000m + 10000m]

  • Hermione Baines [women’s 800m + 1500m]

  • relay team

When did athletics start at the Asian Games?

Athletics begins on September 29 and runs until October 5, ending with the men’s and women’s marathons.

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