New Delhi: A disastrous Olympic campaign where they made up just the numbers and a doping fiasco to add to the misery, Indian athletics yet again did little to shrug off the tag of country’s most underachieving sport in the year gone by.
The only silver lining in an otherwise unfruitful year was the world junior record set by javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, who became the first Indian to own a world record, though in the junior category. That gave the embattled Athletics Federation of India the bragging rights that India also can produce world beaters in athletics.
The 18-year-old lad from Haryana hurled the spear to a stunning distance of 86.48m at the IAAF World Under-20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, nearly two meters beyond the earlier world Under-20 record of 84.69m which was in the name of Latvia’s Zigismunds Sirmais. Chopra, currently studying at DAV College in Chandigarh, also broke the existing national senior record of 82.23m which was in the name of Rajinder Singh.
His achievement was all the more stunning as his effort was better than that of Rio Olympics bronze-winner Keshorn Walcott (85.38m) of Trinidad and Tobago. Chopra did not qualify for Olympics as his achievement came after the Olympics qualifying deadline of July 11 though he crossed the Rio entry standard of 83m. Chopra also became the first Indian track and field athlete to win a gold in the World Championships. Legendary long jumper Anju Bobby George had won a bronze in the senior World Championships in 2003.
A record 34 track and field athletes (out of India’s total 117) took part in the Olympics — the grandest of the world stage — but in the end, except for Lalita Babar it turned out to be a mere presence. The Rio performance was one of the worst in India’s athletics history. In London 2012, two athletes — Vikas Gowda and Krishna Poonia — made it to the finals while two race walkers came up with national record timings.
But this time the performance was disappointing despite the Sports Ministry splashing crores of rupees on their training under the Target Olympic Podium Scheme. Babar qualified for the finals in the women’s 3000m steeplechase, the first time by an Indian in track events after P T Usha did 32 years ago in 400m hurdles in 1984 Los Angeles. She finished a creditable 10th to be the only saving grace among her underperforming colleagues.
The build-up to the Games was not good either as it was rocked by dope flunks by two national record holders — shot putter Inderjeet Singh and 200m runner Dharambir Singh. Both were barred from taking part in the Olympics. Dharambir was later banned for eight years last month as it was his second dope offence. The case for Inderjeet is still in the hearing stage before the Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel of the NADA.
On the administrative front, Adille Sumariwalla was re-elected unopposed as the president of AFI for a second term at its Annual General Body Meeting. Sumariwalla, also a member of the powerful IAAF’s ruling council, was the lone nomination received for the top post and he will serve as president till 2020.