Dubai: India believes its athletes can start delivering on a truly international stage, starting from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
With exactly a year to go until the start of the Summer Games, the good news is that a handful of Indian athletes have already been showing signs of being competitive at the highest level of competition.
Looking at the recent results, starting with sprint ace Hima Das’s five gold medals at international competitions within just three weeks, one would be further convinced that this may not a pipe dream after all.
Last year’s Asian Games in Jakarta saw Indian athletes redeem themselves with the second-highest ever haul in track and field as they picked up seven gold, 10 silver and two bronze medals.
Then followed the Asian Athletics Championships in April in Doha, where India managed a fourth place in the overall standings with three gold, seven silver and bronze medals each for a total of 17.
The next challenge before Indian athletes is the IAAF World Championships in September and all of the hopefuls are fighting against time to live up to their potential, while shaping up towards the 2020 Tokyo Games.
The Olympic qualification period for racewalking and marathon events began on January 1 this year and K.T. Irfan became the first Indian athlete to achieve the Tokyo entry benchmark with a timing of 1:20:57, finishing fourth in the Asian Racewalking Championships in Nomi, Japan.
Joining him is Asian marathon champion Gopi Thonakal who qualified after his eleventh place finish in the Seoul International Marathon earlier this year. The 30-year-old clocked his personal best time of 2 hours, 13.39 minutes bettering the World Championships qualification mark of 2:16:00.
Next on the flight to Doha will be long-jumper M. Sreeshankar as he set a new national record at the National Open in Bhubaneswar with a leap of 8.20 metres and the 19-year-old will be joined by Devinder Singh and Ganapathi Krishnan (both 20km walk), Avinash Sable (3,000m steeplechase), Annu Rani (Javelin Throw).
Also making the cut is Haryana’s Anjali Devi in the women’s 400m with her stunning 51.79s (qualification time 51.80s), which came as she won the National Open gold.
While Hima had been in sizzling form this month, the 22-year-old ‘Dhing Express’ is yet to qualify for the next big event in Qatar.
However, all is not lost for Hima.
Between now and the biennial competition in Doha, which gets underway on September 27, there is another major event — the Indian GP on September 1, — where competitors can achieve entry standards.
However there could be a hurdle, as the world athletics body has brought about a few major changes in the run-up to the Olympics.
The IAAF Council has agreed to tweak the competition format and rules.
It has approved a new 2020 Olympic qualification system, extending the window by two months while including more competitions like the Diamond League, to offer athletes more opportunities at achieving the Tokyo benchmark.
Additionally, in February this year, a new world rankings system was launched under which athletes will be awarded points based on a combination of results and position depending on the level of competition.
The ranking is then determined based on their average score over a certain number of competitions in a defined period of time.
A dual qualification system for the 2020 Olympics has been put in place, which will combine both the entry standards and rankings.
It effectively implies that an athlete can qualify for Tokyo either by achieving entry standard within qualification period or by virtue of their ranking at the end of the qualification period.
The idea is to have 50 per cent of the athletes in each event qualifying through either system.
The good news is that there is still time before the athletes after the athletics world body announced its qualification standards for the Doha World Championships, with the qualifying window for the Tokyo falling between May 1, 2019 and June 29, 2020.