Monday 24 July 2017
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Bhubaneswar – 4 July 2017:  The 22nd Asian Athletics Championships will be staged in Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar, from 6 to 9 July 2017.  More than 650 athletes from across the Asian continent are contesting in 42 track and field events in the four-day meet.  The CHAMPIONS from the Bhubaneswar meet will have an automatic entry in to the World championships to be staged in London this August.  As much as 13 defending champions from the last edition held at Wuhan, two years ago, are looking to defend their title in the coming days.   

Men’s Sprint Events:

Defending Asian champion and continental record-holder Femi Seun Ogunode will be the main contender in both 100 and 200m. However things would not be such easy like earlier years as two equally strong athletes Kemarley Brown and Andrew Fisher of Bahrain, are having excellent track records.  The former was a silver medallist in the World University Games at Gwangju two years ago while the latter was an Olympic finalist in Rio de Janeiro last year.  Their presence will give even a threat to Ogunode’s Asian area and championship record of 9.91 secs.  Brown and Fisher already credited with personal bests of 9.93 and 9.94 secs in recent years.  Iran’s former Asian junior champion Hasan Taftian, his teammate and 2015 Asian championship bronze medalist Reza Ghasemi will be the other contenders for the podium finish in Bhubaneswar.  In the longer sprint, Bahrain’s Mohamed Yacoub Salem will be the main challenger to the Qatari Ogunode.  Local star Amiya Kumar Mallick is the only sprinter fielded by India and may keep some surprise in store with the support of home-crowd.

In men’s 400m, India’s national record-holder Muhammed Anas leading the lists in Asia this season with 45.32 secs clocking in New Delhi six weeks ago. Incheon Asian Games bronze medalist Arokia Rajiv, who on last Saturday clocked a season best 46.13 secs to win the Kozanov memorial meet at Almaty, is closing in for an epic battle with Anas as also Japan’s Takamasa Kitagawa and Iranian Ali Khadivar with season best timings of 45.48 and 45.64 secs respectively.  Oman’s Asian indoor bronze medalist Ahmed Mubarak Al-Saadi, with a career best 45.89 secs, will be the other strong contender in the one lap race.

Women’s Sprint Events:

Local hosts Odisha will cheer for two of their daughters in the women’s sprint races here.   Diminutive Dutee Chand will be main attraction as she heads the season lists for Asia with the legal Indian best of 11.30 secs achieved during the Indian Grand Prix at Delhi in the middle of May.  The former Asian junior champion and Asian senior bronze medalist in 200m asserted her supremacy over the shorter sprint with a silver medal behind Kazakh star Viktoriya Zyabkina in Almaty last week.  Zyabkina along with her elder teammate Olga Safronova will pose as main challengers to Chand for the prima donna spot.    The second Odisha sprinter Srabani Nanda is much stronger in 200m.  Srabani was the bronze medalist in the last edition of the championships in 2015 along with Zyabkina and Safronova—the top two finishers at Wuhan.  Japan’s Kana Ichikawa and Chinese sprinter Lin Huijun besides Singapore’s South East Asian Games champion Shanti Veronica Pereira are aiming to halt the past podium finishers looking to repeat their feat this time.  

As in the men’s race, Indian quarter-milers put up a grand display in the women section too with Nirmala taking the top spot in the 2017 Asian season rankings with her personal best 51.28 secs that she clocked while winning the Federation Cup at Patiala (INDIA) earlier last month.  India fielded two other top athletes through M R Poovamma—back to back silver medalist in the Asian championships of 2013 and 2015—and current Asian Junior champion Jisna Mathew.  From others, Vietnam’s Incheon silver medalist Quach Thi Lan and Asian Grand Prix winner Elina Mikhina from Kazakhstan looking formidable to stop the Indians going for a podium sweep in Bhubaneswar.      

Middle and Long Distance Events:

Defending champion Tintu Luka in women’s 800m and Jinson Johnson in men’s race are expected to boost the medal tally for the hosts in the coming days.  Tintu, who suffered due to extreme weather conditions at Patiala during the Indian Federation Cup last month, make a quick redemption to emerge as the champion in the recently concluded Kosanov memorial athletics meet at Almaty (Kazakhstan) posting a season best 2:02.86 for the gold.  On ideal conditions and with the support of local audience the P.T. Usha trainee will easily replicate her golden act from Wuhan.  Her nearest rivals are hails from neighbouring Sri Lanka as Wuhan bronze medalist Nimala Arachchige (2:02.58) and latest Asian Grand Prix winner Gayanthika Thushari Abeyrathne (2:02.55) will remain as a main threat to Tintu in Kalinga Stadium here.  China’s 2013 South Asian Games victor Song Tingting and Japan’s Fumika Omori are the other strong contenders in this event.

In the men’s side India fields another strong runner in Jinson Johnson.  The 26-year-old Army athlete provided a stunner when he was almost touched legendary Sriram Singh’s four decades old Indian mark with a time of 1 minute 45.98 secs at the Indian Grand Prix in Bengaluru en route to Rio Olympics last year.  Jinson, who made a clean sweep of titles in Asian Grand Prix two years ago however struggled in the early part of this year with just two silver medals from the AGP in 2017 season as he was getting beaten by Sri Lankan Indunil Herath on both the occasions.  Japan’s Wuhan bronze medalist Sho Kawamoto will be the top seed in Bhubaneswar with a season best 1:46.25 clocking from the prestigious Mt. SAC relays at Torrance earlier this year.

1500m:

The Japanese duo of Ayako Jinnouchi (4:12.49) and Nozomi Tanaka (4:18.59) will fight it out for the top podium in the “metric mile”.  Jinnouchi got a bronze medal when the Asian championships were last staged at Pune in 2013 while Tanaka claimed a silver in the first ever Asian Youth meet at Doha two years ago.  Qatar field’s a strongman in Jamal Al-Hayrani.  The Incheon Asian Games bronze medalist posted a personal best 3:38.00 while finishing sixth in the “Global Athletics” at Nijmegen, Netherlands, early last month.  Last year’s Asian Junior Champion Ajay Kumar Saroj is the fastest among the Indians entered with medal ambitions in the senior meet this time in men’s 1500m. 

5000m:

Saudi Arabian Tariq Ahmed Al-Amri is the top seed in 5000m.  Host fields the Wuhan bronze medalist G Lakshmanan and upcoming star Gavit Murli Kumar to gain a medal or two here.  Chinese national champion Liu Hongliang and teammate Duo Bujie are the other medal contenders in this event.   Asian silver medalist Alia Mohamed Saeed once again led Emirates’ challenge in women’s race.  Darya Maslova of Kyrghisztan, who shared the Wuhan podium with a bronze in 2015, together with Japanese Ryo Koida will aim for other medals.  Indian elite Suriya Loganathan entering in her third Asian championships in Bhubaneswar is all set to snatch a medal this time.  

10000m:

Defending champions El Hassan El Abbassi (Bahrain) and Alia Mohamed Saeed (UAE) are looking to ascertain their golden status in 10,000m for men and women respectively.   Abbassi did not run any track races this year.  However his 27:55 on a 10K road race clearly indicates he is a cut above the rest.  Lakshmanan, a silver medalist in Wuhan, together with teammate and South Asian Games winner T Gopi will pose the Indian challenge in the longer event.  China’s Qi Zhenfei, fourth at Wuhan, is another man to watch at Bhubaneswar.     Apart from Alia and Maslova, two strong Japanese runners Mizuki Matsuda (31:39.41) and Yuka Hori (31:59.80) with notable personal bests this season will make the women’s race interesting.  

Steeplechase:

India’s Sudha Singh, the winner of inaugural Asian Games title in 3000msc in Guangzhou 2010 and Asian championship silver medalist in the last three editions is favorite to dominate event. However the presence of Sri Lankan Nilani Rathnayake, who is closing in with the Indian with incredible personal best clocking of 10:03.94 back at home, and Japan’s Nana Sato (10:07.65) make things difficult for Sudha who clocked a season best 10:03.01 during the Indian Federation Cup at Patiala—much slower when compared to her PB of 9:26.55 at Shanghai last year.  

Bahrain’s  John Koech, defending champion in men’s race, will be the star attraction at Bhubaneswar.  The line-up includes Wuhan silver medalist Hashim Salah Abbas from Qatar, Nelson Kipkosgei representing Bahrain and Kosei Yamaguchi of Japan.  Incheon Asian Games bronze medalist Naveen Kumar will be the top Indian to contest for a medal.

Jump events:

Chinese high jumper Zhang Guowei, the silver medalist from Beijing World Championships two years ago, is gearing up to give the spectators a feast in Bhubaneswar.  Pushing him to the limit will be Syrian Majed El Dein Ghazal, a former Asian medalist who recently cleared the bar at 2.32m during the Paris Diamond League at the beginning of this month.  Two other jumpers, Malaysia’s Nauraj Singh Randhawa and Korean Woo Sang-Hyeok also logged 2.30m this season that sounds the competition in Kalinga Stadium would be very hot in this event.

Uzbekistan’s Nadiya Dusanova will be the top favorite in women’s high jump.  Nadia, who jumped 1.96m in indoors, having a season best 1.90m to enter Bhubaneswar.  Hong Kong’s Asian Grand Prix winner Yeung Man Wai (1.88m) and Indian girl Swapna Barman (1.87m en route to her win heptathlon during the Federation Cup at Patiala) would be the other medal aspirants here.

China’s Asian record-holder Li Ling is all set to achieve a “hat-trick” in women’s pole vault.  She had two back to back victories in the Asian championships of Pune (2013) and Wuhan (2015) after her silver medal at Kobe in 2011.  In recent times she also added some major gold’s through Incheon Asian Games (2014) and Gwangju World University Games (2015).  Teammate Chen Qiaoling (4.40) and Japan’s Wuhan bronze medalist Tomomi Abiko (4.30) are the other contestants to watch in Bhubaneswar.

The Chinese field’s their current national champion Ding Bangchao (5.70m).   From Japan comes the Asian junior best performer Masaki Ejima (5.61m).  Saudi Arabia’s official Asian junior record-holder Hussain Asim Al-Hizam (5.60m) and South East Asian Games silver medalist Ernest John Obiena (5.50m) from Philippines will make the contest interesting in men’s pole vault.  

In the horizontal jumps China again fielded a strongman in long jump.  Huang Changzhou, the World Indoor bronze medalist in Portland last year, looking formidable with a personal best 8.26m leap registered at home last week.  Joining the fray is his teammate Zhang Yaoguang, the newly crowned national champion from Jinan with yet another PB of 8.19m achieved in Shanghai.  Indian record-holder Ankit Sharma is all set to make a podium finish after an improvised show of 7.96m top place finish at Kosanov memorial meet at Almaty last month.  Taiwan’s Asian Grand Prix silver medalist Lin Hung-Min (8.10) and Japanese Shin-ichiro Shimono (8.00) are the other strong contenders in this event.

Vietnam’s Asian Games silver medalist Bui Thi Thu Thao is leading the women’s line-up in long jump with a season best mark of 6.58m.  India’s V Neena, the winner of Jiaxing leg of the Asian Grand Prix is looking for a big break as the gold medalist from Bhubaneswar will get an automatic entry in to the World championships at London, next month.   The second Indian in the fray, the jumper-hurdler Nayana James leapt 6.55m while securing the top spot in the Indian Federation Cup at Patiala last month. 

China’s current national champion Zhu Yaming (17.17m) and former Indian record-holder Arpinder Singh (16.75m) are the two to watch in men’s triple jump.  The second man from China is Rio Olympics finalist and former World University Games bronze medalist Xu Xiaolong (16.68m).  Malaysian SEA Games winner Muhammad Hakimi Ismail (16.61) and Philippines’ Mark Harry Diones (16.70) may pull a surprise here.

In women’s triple jump former Asian Youth champion Mariya Ovchinnikova (13.94m) of Kazakhstan has emerged favorite. Irina Ektova from Uzbekistan will be her main challenger with the season best 13.77m.  Ektova was the Asian bronze medalist during 2007, 2009 and 2013.  Sri Lanka’s South Asian Games silver medalist Viduka Lakshani (13.64m), Kaede Miyasaka (13.48) from Japan and Indian N V Sheena (13.31) are the other jumpers to fight for a medal in Bhubaneswar.    

by Ram. Murali Krishnan for LOC/AAA