The race walkers from China are miles ahead from the rest. London Olympics sixth placer Lu Xiuzhi (1:27:15) and her teammate Nie Jingjing (1:28:43) will certainly make it a Chinese affair in women’s 20 km walk. Indian Khushbir Kaur (1:31:40), Japan’s Rei Inoue (1:31:48) and Korean Jeon Yeong-Eun (1:33:38) will try their luck for the remaining medal on the podium.
Reigning Asian Games champion Margarita Mukasheva and Indian half-miler Tintu Lukka will clash for the top spot in 800m. Their head-to-head winning ratio is in favour of Mukasheva (6:1). But the presence of Belayneh Betlhem Desalegn will make things different for the duo. Formerly known as Maryam Mubarak Abdullah of Ethiopia, Betlhem migrated to the United Arab Emirates and won two gold medals for her adopted country in the Pune Asian championships in 1500m and 5000m. In Incheon she is entered in as much as four events – 800m, 1500m, 5000m and 3000m steeplechase. It may change at the time of confirming the entries prior to the commencement of athletics competitions.
Mimi Belete (4:00.08) and defending champion Maryam Jama (4:04.10)l are top 1500m runners from Bahrain. India’s O.P. Jaisha, who recently posted a personal best 4:09.14, may do some surprise act in the metric mile. From the Chinese team, Zhao Jing and Liu Fang are the best bets in 800 and 1500m events respectively.
Mimi Belete (15:11.60 in 5000m) and Ruth Chebet (9:20.55 in 3000m steeplechase) are top guns from Bahrain while Ayumi Hagiwara (31:50.85 in 10000m) and Ryoko Kizaki (2:25:26 in Marathon) the favourites from Japan. Belete was a gold medalist in her event in 2010 while Chebet sets the Asian Record about a month ago in Zurich. Incidentally Chebet won the steeple gold in the rain-hit Asian championships at Pune last year but had lost it to second placed Sudha Singh of India since her ‘transfer’ from Kenya to Bahrain was not effected as per IAAF at that time. With inaugural Asian Games steeplechase champion Sudha struggling to maintain her pace this time, it will be a cake-walk for Chebet in Incheon. However, as mentioned earlier UAE’s Betlhem will be major threat for both Belete and Chebet in their respective events.
Japan’s athletes are the virtual leaders in long distances. Kasumi Nishihara (31:53.69) along with Hagiwara leading the challenge in 10000m while Eri Hayakawa (2:25:31) will partner with Kizaki in the marathon. UAE runner Alia Mohamed Saeed is another keen athlete to watch in 10000m. North Korea’s Kim Hye Gyong (2:27:05) and Kim Hye Song (2:27:58) together Bahraini stars Eunice Jepkirui (2:21:42 PB in 2012) and Lishan Dula (2:26:56 PB in 2011) are expected to set the road race a memorable one.
Japan’s Chisato Fukushima was the star of Guangzhou Asiad as she delivered a ‘sprint double’. But four years later it looks difficult for her to ‘repeat’ the golden act as athletes from a variety of nations coming out with excellent performances this season. In the Asian championships at Pune last year, Wei Yongli (China) took the title in 100m while Kazakh sprinter Viktoriya Zyabkina clinched the 200m gold. Zyabkina’s colleague Olga Safronova is leading the Asian lists in 100m (11.23 secs) and 200m (22.85s) this year. To everyone’s surprise even Indian sprinter Sharadha Narayana listed second in 100m with her excellent 11.39 secs clocked three months ago while Yongli a close third behind in 11.40s. Zyabkina and Yongli once again taking top rankings in 200m behind Safronova with their season best timings of 23.22 and 23.25 secs respectively.
The 400m will be a two-horse race between Bahrain’s Kemi Adekoya (51.32 secs) and Indian M.R. Poovamma (51.73). Adekoya, formerly a Nigerian citizen, recently won a bronze medal in the IAAF Continental Cup at Marrakech in 400m hurdles – her favourite event – as part of the Asia-Pacific team.
Notwithstanding the presence of the reigning Asian Games champions in both 100m hurdles (Lee Yeon-Kyoung of Korea) and 400m hurdles (Ashwini Akkunji of India), the Incheon start-lists provide a clue that new champions will emerge this time.
A three-cornered contest is in offing between Kazakhstan’s Anastasiya Pilipenko (12.93 secs), China’s Wu Shujiao (12.99) and Japan’s Ayako Kimura (13.13). The latter is the Asian champion from Pune. The re-emergence of China’s Sun Yawei will also be not ruled out in 100m hurdles.
As mentioned earlier Kemi Adekoya of Bahrain will be the top contender for 400m hurdles gold with her excellent 54.59 secs personal best this year. It means Leng Xueyan’s 20-years-old Games Record of 55.26 secs is under threat. Asian champion Satomi Kubokura from Japan and Xiao Xia of China will try for minor medals.