The return of Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra was a huge blow, but the Indian athletics team for the Commonwealth Games still has several medal contenders to compete for the top honors when the blue-riband track and field event begins in Birmingham on Tuesday . Chopra will not be defending the javelin throw title he won in the previous edition in Gold Coast due to a groin strain during his silver-winning feat at the World Championships in the USA last month. In his absence, the likes of long jumper Murali Sreeshankar, steeplechaser Avinash Sable, veteran discus thrower Seema Punia and javelin thrower Annu Rani are expected to step up and try to take glory in the multi-sporting spectacle.
India are expected to win at least one medal from the three triple jumpers Praveen Chitravel, Abdullah Abubakar and Aldhos Paul, who made it to the finals of the World Championships, as they are among the best performers in the Commonwealth this season.
With the emergence of several world-class athletes, especially after Chopra won a historic athletics gold at the Tokyo Olympics last year, India will be looking for at least half a dozen medals at the Birmingham Games.
The country’s best athletics medal came at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games with 2 gold, 3 silver and 7 bronze. It will certainly be difficult to match that performance but the Indians will be looking for their second best performance of all time.
The Indian athletics contingent’s second best ever performance in the Commonwealth Games has been three medals (1 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze each) in the 2014 and 2018 editions.
The Indian action will begin on Tuesday with the men’s long jump qualifying round featuring Sreeshankar and Mohammad Anees Yahia.
National record holder Sreeshankar has been in fine form this season with jumps of over 8m on several occasions, though he failed to finish seventh in the final of the World Championships with a best jump of 7.96m.
He could at least have won the bronze medal if he had matched his season and personal best of 8.36m.
Sreeshankar will join the Games as the season leader among athletes from Commonwealth countries.
Yahia has jumped more than 8m five times this season with a best of 8.15m in March and is also in the race for a medal if he qualifies for the final on August 4.
On the first day of the competition, the medals can be expected directly from veteran Seema and compatriot Navjit Kaur Dhillon, who is the silver and bronze winner of the previous edition.
Seema is looking to clinch her fifth medal in as many matches after winning three silver and one bronze so far. The most decorated Indian athlete at the Commonwealth Games, she never returned empty-handed, although her best performance this season was an effort of 57.09m at Chula Vista, USA, last month.
She won the silver medal in the previous edition with a best throw of 60.41m.
Dhillon hasn’t crossed the 60m mark in May this year with a best of 58.03m, but in the weak zone, if she improves to her season best, she can win a medal.
National record holder Manpreet Kaur will also compete in the women’s shotput qualifying round on Tuesday while star runner Dutee Chand will run in the 100m dash round one heat.
High jumper Tejaswin Shankar, who was included at the last minute on the orders of the Delhi High Court after being sidelined in the original team, will also have a qualifying round.
With the five finalists at the Eugene World Championships going to Birmingham, where the competition will be relatively easy, India will look to envision their chances of winning some medals.
The country has so far won 28 medals (5 gold, 10 silver, 13 bronze) in all the editions since the legendary Milkha Singh won gold in the men’s 440 yards event in 1958.
Shekhar Dhanalakshmi, who competed in the women’s 100m and 4x100m relay, and Aishwarya Babu, who competed in the long jump as well as the triple jump, were dropped from the original 36-man squad after failing a dope test, bringing shame. The matter came Country.
Dhanalakshmi won’t have much chance in the 100m, but her absence will be a blow to the women’s 4×100 relay team, although India are not medal favorites in the presence of England, Jamaica, Canada and Australia.
Aishwarya could have been a bronze medal contender with her national mark of 14.14m at the National Inter-State Championships last month.
Another member of the 4x100m relay race, MV Jilana, was also ejected at the last minute after failing a dope test. Thus in the 4x100m relay team, only four members are left in Dutee, Hima Das, Sarbani Nanda and NS Simi.
The men’s marathon event took place on Saturday and India’s Nitender Rawat finished 12th.
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