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CWG 2022: Neeraj Chopra-led Indian athletics team tipped for great show

Indian athletics has been on a constant rise. The Neeraj Chopra-led side is tipped to come up with a top show at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Commonwealth Games, CWG 2022: Neeraj Chopra-led Indian athletics team tipped for great show-ayh
New Delhi, First Published Jul 23, 2022, 6:03 PM IST

The spotlight will be on Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra. Still, Murali Sreeshankar and Avinash Sable are strong medal contenders as the Indian athletics team will eye its best Commonwealth Games (CWG) show away from home in the upcoming Birmingham edition. Woman javelin thrower Annu Rani and 38-year-old discus thrower Seema Antil are among the ones who could also get a podium finish. At the same time, India is expected to win more than a medal in the men's triple jump event. With several world-class athletes evolving, especially after Neeraj Chopra's historic athletics gold during the Tokyo Olympics last year, India would be eyeing at least half a dozen medals in Birmingham.

The country's best athletics medal haul had come during the Delhi CWG 2010, with a couple of golds, three silvers and seven bronze medals. That performance will undoubtedly be challenging to match, but the Indians would be looking for their second-best show ever. The second best show from the Indian athletics contingent at the CWG has been the three-medal hauls (a gold, a silver, a bronze) in the 2014 and 2018 editions.

With all the six finalists in the ongoing World Championships in Eugene, USA, heading to Birmingham, where the competition will be relatively more straightforward, India would fancy their chances to win a handful of medals. The country has won 28 medals (five golds, ten silvers, and 13 bronze) across editions since the legendary Milkha Singh claimed gold in the men's 440 yards event in 1958.

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Sekar Dhanalakshmi, who was to compete in women's 100 metres and 4x100 metres relay, and Aishwarya Babu, who was to feature in the long and triple jumps, were pulled out of the 36-member team after failing dope tests which brought shame to the country. Dhanalakshmi would not have much chance in the 100 metres, but her absence would blow the women's 4x100 metres relay team. However, India is not a medal favourite in the presence of England, Jamaica, Canada and Australia.

Aishwarya could have been a medal contender -- for a bronze -- with her national mark of 14.14 metres set at the 2022 National Inter-State Championships last month. Defending champion Chopra is not sure shot for gold, as he will have to fight for the top honour against Anderson Peters of Grenada. Peters finished third in the 2018 Gold Coast edition, with a best throw of 82.20 metres, while Chopra won gold with 86.47 metres.

Since then, Peters has won the 2019 World Championships gold and has thrown 90 metres-plus on three instances this year. Chopra has beaten Peters twice, while the 24-year-old Grenadian had prevailed over the Indian in their three meetings this year. India can win a couple of medals in the men's javelin throw event, with 2012 Olympics champion Keshorn Walcott struggling this season.

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India's DP Manu and Rohit Yadav, who made it to the 2022 World Championships final alongside Chopra, are next in the season's list among Commonwealth athletes. Manu had notched the gold medal last month in the 2022 National Inter-State Championships, registering a throw of 84.35 metres, while Rohit qualified for his maiden final in the World Championships.

Joint second in the season's list with his 8.36 metres, Sreeshankar is a hot favourite to win a medal in Birmingham. He was a contender during the World Championships this year but could finish seventh with a best effort of 7.99 metres. The World Championships disappointment could prompt him to nail a medal at the CWG. His seventh spot in the Worlds final was the best among Commonwealth athletes, with Wayne Pinnock of Jamaica and Henry Frayne of Australia finishing ninth and 12th, respectively.

The other Indian long jumper, Muhammed Anees Yahiya, could also be in medal contention if he can clear the eight metres mark, which he has done on five occasions this season with a best of 8.15 metres in March. Sable, on his part, will have to fight with World Championships bronze medallist Conseslus Kipruto of Kenya and Abraham Kibiwot in the 3,000 metres steeplechase for the top honours.

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Kibiwot had finished fifth at the Eugene World Championships in a slow and tactical race, whereas Sable had ended 11th. Kipruto and Kibiwot had won gold and silver, respectively, in the Gold Coast edition. India's three triple jumpers, Praveen Chitravel, Abdulla Aboobacker and Eldhose Paul, in the World Championships final, are the top performers among the Commonwealth athletes for the season.

Chitravel and Aboobacker have breached the 17 metres mark this season. They would look to make amends after their disappointing performances in the World Championships, where they could come up with just 16.49 metres and 16.45 metres, respectively. Annu Rani will also be confident for the Birmingham CWG following her second straight World Championships final appearance. She will be up against 2019 world champion Kelsey-Lee Barber of Australia, and Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist, Elizabeth Gleadle of Canada for top honours.

Women's discus throw can also fetch India a couple of medals, from Seema Antil and Navjeet Kaur Dhillon, just like they won a silver and a bronze in the 2018 edition, with 60.41 metres and 57.43 metres measures, respectively. Any distance beyond 60 metres is suitable for a CWG medal.

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Antil is hunting for her fifth medal in as many appearances. She has never returned empty-handed from the CWG, although her best performance for the season is a 57.09 metres effort during the Chula Vista in the USA a few days back. Navjeet Kaur Dhillon has not crossed the 60 metres mark this year, with a best of 58.03 metres in May, but in a weak field, she can bag a medal if she improves her season's best.

The marathon race, in which Nitender Rawat will be participating in the men's event, will be held on July 30. The other track and field events will be held from August 2-7. There was selection drama also, as high jumper Tejaswin Shankar was not picked for the team after breaching the qualifying standard of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI). After Shankar petitioned at the Delhi High Court, the AFI had to include him in the side. Still, the Birmingham organisers initially refused to accept it, only to make a U-turn later and clear his entry in the dying minutes.

(With inputs from PTI)

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