Doha, 10 Feb 2016 - The reigning triple jump Olympic champion, a 2014 World Indoors gold medallist and the winners of 14 disciplines from the previous edition of the Asian Athletics Association’s flagship indoor competition, may be found among the list of 432 athletes representing 37 nations, who are due to compete at the 2016 AAA Indoor Championships in Doha’s Aspire Dome between February 19 and 21.
Local hero and defending Asian and World indoor high jump champion Mutaz Barshim leads the men’s chart of 175 competitors, while Olympic triple jump champion and Asian record holder Olga Rypakova from Kazakhstan is undoubtedly the one to watch among the 115 female athletes preparing to flock to Aspire Dome’s state-of-the-art facility.
Those who aim to duplicate their 2014 success are Qataris Samuel Francis (60m), Musaeb Abdulrahman Balla (800m), Mohamed Al Garni (1500m & 3000m) and Barshim. Mahdi Zamani and Maryam Toosi from Iran will also be looking to defend the 400m titles they captured in Hangzhou, China, as will Kuwaitis Abdulaziz Almandeel (60m hurdles) and Saleh Alhaddad (long jump) and Japan’s Tomomi Abiko in pole vault.
India’s Om Prakash Karhan is rated among the favourites in the shot put in his quest for back-to-back Asian indoor titles, as is Uzbekistan’s Svetlana Radzivil. Nevertheless, compatriot Nadiya Dusanova’s presence will surely pile pressure on her plans for a repeat in the high jump competition.
Kazakhstan’s Elina Mikhina, a 4X400m gold medallist from 2014 aspires to double her titles as well, but she should expect stiff opposition in the 400m, the event she has signed in.
Two Qataris on the road to a fourth Asian indoor title
Samuel Francis a three-time winner over the 60m will be chasing a fourth title on Day 1 of the Championships at 20:45 local time when the gun sounds the start of the short dash final.
Olympic bronze medallist Mutaz Barshim is more likely though to add a fourth title to the record-books, following his successive victories in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Barshim sailed over 2.34 earlier this year in Malmö and judging by his own recent statement, he has set his sights not only on another continental indoor accolade, but on a new area and world indoor record as well.
The hosts, who aim to set a new gold-medal haul record and thus surpass their 2014 five-star tally, have more arrows in their quiver besides the aforementioned. 400m Asian champion and indoor record holder Abdalleleh Haroun as well as Tosin Ogunode, the 2014 surprise package who ran 6.50, a 60m Asian record when not yet eligible to represent Qatar internationally, may as well find themselves climbing on the top of the podium.
China challenges Qatar for the first place prize
The first medals of the Championships will be awarded to the winners of the women’s triple jump, an event which is overshadowed by the presence of Kazakhstan’s diva, Olga Rypakova. At the age of 31, the Kazak remains one of the event’s top guns. Her medal winning capacity when the going gets tough, guided her to the 2015 IAAF World Championships bronze in Beijing. Rypakova has great memories from the Aspire Dome arena, a venue she won an Asian title in 2008 and the World title in 2010.
Other notable entrants are Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Salman Al Khuwalidi, the long jump area record holder and the only “survivor” from the 2004 golden generation, i.e. the athletes who won at the inaugural Asian Indoor Championships. Al Khuwalidi is along with Kazakhstan’s triple jumpers Roman Valiyev and Rypakova the only three 2008 winners who return to Doha for a second golden taste inside the Aspire Dome famous arena.
China is featuring, along with hosts Qatar, the largest delegation consisting of 23 athletes. Among them, in-form 19-year-old pole vaulter Huang Bokai who showed his potential by clearing 5.60 recently and the 2012 champ Ling Li, the women’s pole vault Asian record holder. Zheng Xingjuan a former Asian champion is expected to challenge Radzivil in the high jump, while Cao Shuo in triple jump, Minjia Lu in long jump and Tianqian Guo in shot put look certain to enforce China’s bid to reclaim the top spot from reigning champs Qatar on the medal table.
Bahrain is represented by a 17-athlete strong team (12 of them women - more than any other nation). Asian 3000m record holder Albert Rop and the Asian 400m hurdles champion Oluwakemi Adekoya, who is entering the 400m, are the team’s main assets.
Japan’s main gold medal hopes lie on pole vaulter Seito Yamamoto who jumped 5.77 in mid-January. Kazakhstan, besides Rypakova and Valiyev, has high expectations from the new shot put Asian record holder (20.51) Ivan Ivanov and the 60m sprinter Victoriya Zyabkina (7.24 season best).
Apart from Al Khuwalidi, the Saudis may count as well for a podium finish on Mohammed Othman Shaween in the 1500m and the shot put outdoors area record holder, Sultan Abdulmajeed Al Hebshi.