Indian athletes aim for best-ever haul in CWG

New Delhi: The missing star power of Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell might have taken some sheen off it but the athletics event of the Delhi Commonwealth Games promises to be enthralling nonetheless with home-grown talents such as PT Usha-protege Tintu Luka gearing up to make a mark.

India have just nine athletics medals, including a gold, in the Commonwealth Games history but the country can look forward to a haul of at least six this time, according to Athletics Federation of India chief Lalit Bhanot.

Athletics is one discipline in Commonwealth Games which presents a world class field. Competitors from Great Britain, Australia, Canada, Jamaica, Kenya and Canada take part in it.

Not surprisingly, India have won many times more athletics medals in Asian Games than Commonwealth Games. `Flying Sikh` Milkha Singh is the only Indian to have won a gold -- in men`s quarter mile or 440 yards race in Cardiff, Wales in 1958 when it was still known as the British Empire and Commonwealth Games.

The colour of the medals will, however, depends on whether the athletes can touch their personal bests in home conditions.

"This time we have the chance to have the best medal haul in our Commonwealth Games history. We are aiming for six to eight medals. It is a very tough world-class competition in athletics as competitors from Jamaica, Kenya, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada are taking part," Bhanot told reporters.

"In Melbourne, we won two silver -- Seema Antil in women`s discus throw and women`s 4X400 relay. But this time we are hoping that we will be among the top performing athletics countries," said Bhanot who is also the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee spokesman.

In four events -- men`s shot put, men`s discus throw, women`s discus throw and women`s 4X400 relay -- Indians are among the season`s top five performers among Commonwealth countries.

India is expecting two medals from women`s discus throw out of the three in the team -- Krishna Poonia, Harwant Kaur and national record holder and Melbourne Games silver medallist Seema Antil.

Poonia and Kaur are in the top five and Antil is sixth. All the three were also fielded in Melbourne with Antil winning silver with a throw of 60.56m.

Poonia hurled the discus to 63.69 in April in USA, which put her third in the season`s best list behind Dani Samuels (65.58m) of Australia and Elizna Naude (64.49m) of South Africa.

Naude had won gold in Melbourne with an effort of 61.55m while Samuels bagged a bronze by clearing 60.56m.

Poonia, who was fifth in Melbourne four years ago with 58.65m, has not touched 61.00m in her two latest performances -- at the Asian All Star Meet in July here and National Inter-State Championships in Patiala last month.

Kaur, who was seventh in Melbourne with 57.64m, has a season`s best of 60.66m which she recorded at Patiala and is fifth among the Commonwealth discus throwers.

She has a personal best of 63.05m which she did six years ago and had done 61.08 in 2008 though in the last two months she has not been able to go past the 61m mark.

Antil, on the other hand, has not touched 60m for quite some time and she will need a major improvement in her form to win a medal though she is the national record holder with a throw of 64.84 in 2004.

In women`s 800m race, Luka has improved by leaps and bounds in recent months and she broke Shiny Wilson`s 15-year-old national record yesterday in the VTB Bank Continental Cup by running 1:59.17 to finish a creditable fifth. Wilson`s earlier national record was 1:59.85 set in 1995.

Luka is now sixth among Commonwealth top performers this season with Beijing Olympics gold medallist Nancy Jebet Lagat of Kenya leading the time with 1:57.75, followed by another Kenyan Janeth Jepkosgei (1:57.84), Jamaican Kenia Sinclair (1:58.16), Britons Jemma Simpson (1:58.74) and Jennifer Meadows (1:58.88).

But the withdrawls of Simpson and Meadows, who finished fourth in Croatia, have brightened Luka`s medal hopes. The 21-year-old P T Usha protege will, however, have to contend with tough competition as top finishers in Melbourne four years ago are in prime form this time around as well.

Janeth had won gold in Melbourne with a time of 1:57.88 while Sinclair was the silver medallist with 1:58.16 four years ago.

Janeth, a former world champion and Beijing Olympics silver medallist, and Sinclair finished first and second in VTB Bank Continental Cup on Saturday in Split, Croatia, where Luka shattered Shiny Wilson`s record with her first sub two minute performance of her career.

South African world champion Caster Semenya, who resumed running recently after her gender test controversy a year ago, will also be aiming for a medal though her best this season was 1:59.65.

Another event in which India can expect a medal is in women`s 4X400m relay. The Indian quartet of Rajwinder Kaur, Manjith Kaur, Soman Chitra and Pinki Parmanik had won a silver in Melbourne with an effort of 3:29.57.

This season, the Indian relay team`s 3:32.63 time is the fourth best behind Great Britain, Jamaica and Nigeria. In Melbourne, Australia had won gold with a timing of 3:28.66 while Nigeria (3:31.83) and Jamaica (3:34.91) had finished third and fourth respectively.

Fast improving women jumper Mayookha Johny is another medal hope in both long jump and triple jump. She broke Anju Bobby George`s 2002 triple jump national record of 13.67m by clearing 13.68m at the National Inter-State Meet in Patiala last month.

In long jump, her 6.64m is seventh among the season`s best Commonwealth performers while she is sixth in triple jump.

"I am aiming to jump around 14m in which I think should win a medal in long jump. In triple jump, I am aiming for 6.7m or 6.8m to get a medal," Mayookha had said after the Patiala meet.

Among men, India`s medal hopes are mainly on shot putters Om Prakash and Saurabh Vij but they may not be gold. With Vij testing positive for a banned stimulant has dealt a blow to India as he had recently recorded a staggering 20.65m in the Delhi Athletics Championships.

His effort though was not counted as national record as it came in a state event which did not follow standard rules including dope tests.

The IAAF website though took note of Vij`s effort which is below the Commonwealth best of Canadian Dylan Armstrong`s 21.58m. Dorian Scott of Jamaica, who won silver in Melbourne four years ago with an effort of 19.75m, is second with season`s best of 20.55 while Martin Scott of Australia who won bronze in Melbourne has a personal best of 20.10 to lie fourth this season.

Om Prakash and Great Britain`s Carl Myerscough have same 19.99m to be in fifth place in season`s best efforts.

Om Prakash, who have a personal best of 20.02m recorded last year in Chennai said he wood look to clear 20.50m for a medal.

"I am looking to clear at least 20.50m which I think should be enough for a medal. Winning gold depends on the performance of other competitors. Armstrong could only have 19.70 in the VTB Bank Continental Cup on Saturday so you never know," he said.

Another athlete who can win a medal is Vikas Gowda in discus throw as he is third on the season`s top list with his 63.22 at Oklahoma in United States in May. The best among Commonwealth athletes so far this season is 65.83 by Benn Harradine of Australia while Brett Morse of Great Britain had 63.35.

Harradine, who had a personal best of 66.37 in 2008, finished eighth while Gowda finished sixth with a throw of 60.08m in Melbourne.

The gold in Melbourne was won by Martin Scott of Australia with an effort of 63.48 while Canadians Jason Tunks and Dariusz Slowick had won silver and bronze with 63.07m and 61.49m respectively.

National record holder men`s triple jumper Renjith Maheswari is in the sixth among the Commonwealth best performers with 17.00m and if he can improve his performance a bit notches up he can be on podium.

The best performer this season among Commonwealth athletes was Melbourne Games gold medallist Philip Idowu of England with 17.81m. Idowu had won gold in Melbourne with an effort of 17.45m. Khotso MoMokoena of South Africa and Alwyn Jones of Australia had won silver and bronze in Melbourne with efforts of 16.95m and 16.75m.

India is fielding around 90 athletes -- the largest number ever in Commonwealth Games -- and some of them have been included in the squad to give them international exposure as the country is hosting the Games though they have not crossed the qualifying mark.

"We are the host country and so we have the luxury to field three athletes in every individual event. So in some events we have made token entries even if they do not touch the qualifying standard," AFI officiating Secretary Ravinder Chowdhry said.

The walk race athletes, both men and women, will be named after September 15 while the list of 4X100 and 4X400 relay teams, both men and women, will be pruned later.