Athletics in India is scattered by sporadic success. The most prestigious field of any mega sporting event could not see India dominating track with sheer confidence. Except for the Asian Games 2018, where India won a record 19 medals, including 7 gold, 10 silver, and 2 bronze, athletics has never been India’s forte.
But since javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra won a historic gold at the Tokyo Olympics, there has been a renewed interest in athletics in India. Neeraj Chopra’s individual Olympic gold was followed by a great show at World Athletics U20 Championships. Of late, Indian athletes showing promise of making their early gains count in senior categories.
Let’s take a look at 5 emerging track and field athletes who could make India proud in the coming time.
Kishore Kumar Jena – Men’s javelin throw
Odisha’s Kishore Kumar Jena emerged as a bright prospect in men’s javelin throw. The 26-year-old from Puri won the gold medal at the 3rd National Open Javelin Throw Championships at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium last month with a throw of 74.26m, much lower than his personal best of 76.41m which he achieved at the Odisha Senior Inter-Districts Athletics Championships at Kalinga Stadium.
With the national title in his kitty, Kishore hopes for better training facilities so that he can improve his performance. Like many budding javelin throwers of the country, he also idolises Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Neeraj Chopra.
Deepika – Women’s javelin throw
Since Neeraj Chopra won the Olympic gold in Tokyo, one sport that has become most popular among budding athletes is the javelin throw. And Haryana, Neeraj’s home state, is the place where like many other sports javelin throw is also seeing a surge in interest among the youths.
There is a spear revolution in the Bangaon village of Haryana. Coaches casually refer to Bangaon as “Finland of Haryana”, owing to the surge in javelin medals from the region. At the recently-concluded National Open Javelin Throw Championships at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, girls from Bangaon grabbed all three spots on the podium in the U-16 category. Of them, gold-medallist Deepika is the brightest future medal prospect for India.
Deepika has set a new national record in the girls’ U-16 section with an effort of 49.31m (500 grams javelin). She bettered her own previous best of 48.21m that came in February this year.
In August this year, at Sangrur, Deepika tossed the javelin in the U-20 category where 600 grams javelin was used as against 500 grams for those in the U-16 category.
Amit Khatri – 10,000 race walk
In a spectacular year that saw India winning a record seven medals at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, India got quite a few remarkable moments in athletics. After the Tokyo Olympics ended in August, India returned home with three medals from the World Athletics U20 Championships for the first time.
17-year-old Amit Khatri, who had been on a record-breaking spree in the national circuit this year, won the men’s 10,000m race walk silver after a brave effort in Nairobi. The boy from Rohtak, the world’s fastest under-20 walker this year, held the lead for a good part of the race with host Kenya’s Heristone Wanyonyi hot on his heels.
But the Indian had missed picking a bottle from the water table on a couple of occasions midway through the race and later appeared to go for too many ‘water breaks’ which perhaps cost him the gold. With more tactical and physical grooming, he will be one real good medal prospect for India in near future.
Priya H. Mohan – Women’s 400m
18-year-old Priya H. Mohan is an emerging quarter-miler. The Karnataka girl came close to a medal in the women’s 400m final at the biennial World Athletics U20 Championships in August, eventually finishing fourth with a new personal best.
A late burst of speed had put the Indian in the mix in the final lap of the race. But her competitors held their positions ahead. She clocked 52.77 seconds, her new personal best, improving from the 53.29 seconds set earlier this year.
Nigeria’s Uko Imaobong (51.55s) won gold this time, followed by Kornelia Lesiewicz of Poland and Sylvia Chelangat of Kenya. This was the event that saw Hima Das create history in 2018 by winning the gold medal in Tampere, Finland.
But she did return home with a medal when she powered the 4x400m mixed relay team, also comprising Barath Sridhar, Summy and Kapil, to a bronze medal haul.
Shaili Singh – Women’s long jump
Regarded as the next sensation of Indian athletics with the high potential of dominating the international competitions, long jumper Shaili Singh came into the limelight when she won silver at the World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi in August.
The 17-year-old athlete missed the gold by 0.01m as Sweden’s Maja Askag (6.60m) finished first. She produced her best effort of a 6.59m jump, assisted by the wind, to clinch the second spot. 6.59m, her new personal best and junior national record, made Shaili India’s second woman youth Worlds gold medallist in the individual category after Heema Das.
Shaili has been training at Anju Bobby George Academy in Bengaluru under the mentorships of Robert Bobby George and legendry long jumper Anju Bobby Geroge since 2018.
The daughter of a single parent, Vanita Singh, a tailor by profession, Shaili Singh has been touted as the next biggest thing in Indian women’s track and field sports by India’s lone senior Worlds medallist long jumper Anju Bobby George for quite some time.
The youth Worlds medal will certainly give a big boost to her quest to make it count in Paris 2024.