Nothing fascinates a sports enthusiast more than competitive athletics. Year after, day by day, there is no boundary to human excellence, and the frontier keeps moving away enticing the athlete to come and conquer.
Basically, athletics does not allow any area of activity to be stagnant urging the competitors to write a new chapter as frequently as possible. So, there is never a dull moment when an athlete runs, throws or jumps on the athletics arena; there is only expectation of a fresh conquest of time, distance or height.
A close study of the history of athletics will reveal the stupendous achievements by men and women competitors etching new marks. Some of them are mind boggling and spectacular making the achiever instant legendary figures like the incomparable Jessie Owens in the Olympics of 1936 at Berlin or Carl Lewis in the 1984 Games at Los Angeles. These two names are mere examples of humans who excelled in more than one disciplines. There are who have turned in epic performances.
Even a superfluous glance over the ebb and flow of competitive athletics can plunge any one in an emotional melange. It is true for any country, big or small, powerful and weak, in the pursuit of athletics excellence.
When compared to the US, the former USSR, European nations like Germany, Britain, France, or even Asian counties like China, Japan, and Korea, India cannot be described as a power house. But it cannot be denied a place in the history as a keen participant in the Olympics from as early as 1908.
There have been performers who caught the fancy of the aficionados across the world like Milkha Singh in the Olympics in Rome or P T Usha in 1984 at LA or Anju Bobby George in the last decade. But the medals won in the Olympics and World Championships are too negligible to gain the power status in commensurate the population of 1.3 billion, unlike China which is portrayed as a super power and the No 1 in the Continent outsmarting Japan that held the dominant position till Eighties.
Examined from India’s standpoint the mood of despair has given way to some hope last year. There were a couple of competitors who impressed the world audience. One was Neeraj Chopra, the 20 year old Haryana lad who cut new dimensions in javelin throw almost stepping into the medal bracket in world level championships. He won the gold at the Asian Games in Jakarta a few months ago with a fantastic throw (88.06 m) and led the impressive medal conquest by Indians who finished in the medals tally. He was even spoken off as capable of touching the 100-metre mark with the javelin.
A sequence splendid throws in the World Diamond League proclaimed Neeraj Chopra a world class competitor capable enough for a medal at the next Olympic Games at Tokyo and other international competitions. He gleaned 17 points in the league, a performance none of the Indian athletes have ever achieved.
Another star who came into the world reckoning was Hima Das of Orissa. She won the quarter mile event in the world junior meet with a time of 50.79 s.in Finland. It was a superlative effort prompting many forecast a place in the event in the forthcoming Olympics. But she has a long way to go.
Aside of these striking shows last year India displayed its power in a telling way in the Jakarta Asian Games. A double medal for Jinton Johnson in the middle distance and the fabulous triple jump by Arpinder Singh brought him a bronze medal in the IAAF Continental Cup first time ever for an Indian.
Indian athletes at the Asian Games 2018 covered themselves with glory. The best was Jinton Johnson who got the gold in 1500 metres and silver in 800 metres, Manjit Singh in 800 meter and Tejinder Toor in shot put were outstanding.
Two silver medals for Dutee Chand and one for Hima Da were conspicuous in the women’s section, but the epic effort was the gold in the steeplechase by Bengal’s Swapna Burman with a memorable show of 6026 points, a never-before performance by an Indian in the Asiad. India finished with an aggregate of 19 medals with seven gold medals in athletics.
Amidst this euphoria came the disturbing news of a few our star athletes getting enmeshed in doping scandals. Champion quarter miler Nirmal Sheoren was one among them. Caught in this disgraceful act were middle-distance runners Sanjivani Yadav, Jhuma Khatun, discus thrower Sandeep Kumari, shot putter Naveen.
Eventually it turned out to be a mixed year of glorious achievement laced with inglorious doping sandals. It is time for the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) to tighten the loopholes and for the National Doping Agency (NADA) to eliminate the scourge with an iron hand. This will be a major task for the coming year.