Beyond Neeraj: Others in the fray for track and field medals

New Delhi:- Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra has become a synonym of athletics in India with his enthralling performances in the recent times. The entire nation is currently talking about the Tokyo Olympic gold medallist.

The Haryana lad is being projected as a sure shot gold medal prospect for India in the Commonwealth Game in Birmingham as well, and why not?

Chopra (24) is in red-hot form. The star athlete set a national record of 89.94m enroute a silver medal at the Stockholm Diamond League earlier this year, and now he is already in the final of the World Athletics Championships in Oregon, the US.

However, apart from Chopra, medal expectations are there from other Indian athletes as well. IANS highlights some.

Long jumper M. Sreeshankar is the season leader (personal best and national record of 8.36m) among the Commonwealth rivals and will be the favourite for gold. The 23-year-old jumper’s recent form was concerning as it was an opportunity missed at the World Athletics Championships last week.

Reaching the final with an 8m jump, he could only manage 7.96m in the final for a seventh place finish, while the gold medal co-incidentally came at 8.36m.

In spite of that, he still remains the favourite for the top spot at CWG as his other rivals were behind him at the Worlds too.

Sreeshankar will also be joined in the competition by Muhammad Anees Yahiya, who like Sreeshankar will be making his debut at the Commonwealth. Yahiya, brother of 400m national record holder Muhammad Anas, couldn’t make it to the final of Worlds and would hope for an improved show in Birmingham.

The 3000m steeplechase star Avinash Sable will also make his debut at the Commonwealth Games after his best finish of 11th place at the World Championships. His medal chances, however, would be stiff with Kenya, a distance running powerhouse, also competing.

Late entrant high-jumper Tejaswin Shankar, who had to drag the athletics federation to the Delhi High Court to deservingly earn his spot, will be a medal hopeful as well.

The national record holder’s 2.27m jump earlier this season in USA’s prestigious NCAA Championship puts him in medal contention behind Canada’s Django Lovett and New Zealand’s Hamish Kerr.

Among women athletes, sprint stars Hima Das and Dutee Chand will team up together to represent India in the 100m relay for a dream team. However, with Jamaica’s all-star team a runaway favourite for the gold and the likes of Great Britain and Bahamas competing, the Indians would have to punch above their weight for success.

The going only got tougher for the squad as the team’s fastest runner S. Dhanalakshmi flunked a dope test and was subsequently dropped from the team.

Javelin thrower Annu Rani, on the other hand, will be carrying the confidence of her seventh spot finish at the World Championships and may fancy her chances in Birmingham given that she improves further in the season. The field, however, is tough with world champion Kelsey Lee Barber spearheading the gold medal challenge.

Four-time CWG medallist discus thrower Seema Punia will return to her favourite hunting ground, probably for the last time as she enters the competition at 38. Unlike previous editions, however, her form is in question as she hasn’t gone past the 60m mark this season and will require a special effort to bag her fifth medal.

Same goes for the other Indian in fray Navjeet Kaur Dhillon, whose season best is a 58.03m.

Among the other Indians competing would be 10km racewalkers Sandeep Kumar, Priyanka Goswami and Bhawana Jat. It will be interesting to see how the first two react in Birmingham given they have little time to recover after the 20km event at the Worlds.