Further depletion of star athletes, Qatari Barshim pulls out

Pune: Star Qatari high jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim has pulled out of the 20th Asian Athletics Championships due to a back strain, taking the sheen off the continental showpiece event which has already seen pull-outs by some of the top draws.

"Off for a while, Out from Birmingham DL (Diamond League) and the Asian championship, back injury," Barshim, the 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist and current world leader, wrote on his Twitter page.

A Qatari official said Barshim wanted to compete in the here but had to think about avoiding aggravating his injury in view of next month`s World Championships in Moscow.

"He wanted to compete in the Asian Championships but he has to think over the situation that he may aggravate his injury and World Championships is next month," he said.

The 22-year-old Barshim, who is also the defending champion, was one among the very few star attractions left in the Championships, which starts here from Wednesday, after some top athletes of the continents decided to skip the five-day event to be held at the Shiv Chhatrapati Stadium.

Barshim cleared 2.40 metres while winning the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League meeting in Eugene, USA last month to emerge as season leader in the world. He became the first high jumper since 2000 to clear 2.40 metres outdoors.

The biennial showpiece event will also miss the likes of London Olympics gold medallist triple jumper Olga Rypakova of Kazakhstan, who recently gave birth to a baby boy, London silver winner discus thrower Ehsan Hadadi of Iran and reigning world champion and London silver medallist discus thrower Li Yanfeng.

China, who has ruled Asian athletics for the last 15 editions, has also come here without the likes of up and coming triple jumper Li Jinzhe and high jumper Wang Yu.

Japan, who has sent the second biggest team, are without the likes of world champion hammer thrower Koji Murofush and sensational teenage 100m sprinter Yoshihide Kiryu who ran 10.01s recently.

Another Qatari Samuel Adelebari Francis, the only sprinter from Asia who clocked sub 10 seconds, remains the top draw in the Championships. However, Francis is not a native Asian, he is a Nigerian by birth.

It was though good news for India as their 110m hurdles medal prospect Siddhanth Thingalaya is set to take part in event after uncertainty arose over his participation.

"I got a call in the morning from Siddhanth saying that he has reached Mumbai and on the way to Pune. So he is taking part 100 per cent," Indian chief coach Bahadur Singh said.

Thingalaya, who holds the national record of 13.65 secs, which he had set in Belgium last year, trains under Australian Sharon Hannan, the coach of London Olympics women`s 100m hurdles winner Sally Pearson.

His season`s best is 13.81 secs that he clocked while winning the gold in the third leg of the Asian Grand Prix in Colombo last month, which put him among top five performers among the participants in the championships.

Bahadur refused to speculate on how many medals India would win in the Championships.

"All I can say is that all the athletes are injury free and raring to go. We are hoping to put up a strong performance and show that we are still a strong country in Asia," he said.

He also said that wet conditions here due to intermittent light rain will not have much impact on athletes` performance.

"Unless there is heavy rain and puddles on the synthetic track there will not be much difference on performance. If it does not rain heavily, the cool conditions will help the athletes," he said.

Asked if the synthetic at the main stadium will be slow as it is the same one as has been used in the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games, he said, "I don`t think so. The track is still OK."

Meanwhile, the Pakistan contingent of five athletes have expressed satisfaction at the hospitality and facilities here.

"We did not have any issues right from the clearance of visas to the hotel facilities here. Our visas were cleared in quick time and here we are being treated very well. The facilities are great and we have no complaints," chief coach Mohammad Yusuf said.