Guwahati | The absence of a some exempted stars such as Neeraj Chopra and Seema Punia is a bit of a dampener but with Asian Games selection on the line, the 58th National Inter-state Senior Athletics Championships is expected to be a fiercely-contested event, starting from Tuesday.
The four-day meet, which will feature more than 700 athletes from 32 states and union territories, is a selection trial for the Jakarta and Palembang Asian Games to be held from August 18 to September 2.
The Athletics Federation of India has made it clear that those who skip the championships without prior permission will not be considered for the Games.
The exempted include star javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, who won a gold in the Commonwealth Games, and reigning Asian Games champion discus thrower Seema Punia.
Also missing from the meet, to be held at the Indira Gandhi Athletics Stadium, would be national record holder high jumper Tejaswin Shankar, who opted out citing a stiff neck.
India’s top half miler Tintu Luka, a bronze-winner in the 2014 Asian Games, has entered her name but her participation seems unlikely due to a nagging injury.
Just like in the 2014 Asian Games where athletics had contributed 13 of the country’s 57 medals, including two gold, the discipline is expected to dominate the country’s medal count this time too.
The meet also assumes importance since the selectors would pick the team for the 4x400m mixed relay, to be held for the first time at the Asian Games this time. India has a decent chance to win a gold in this event.
Most of the athletes have come back from training-cum-competition tours abroad and they are in fine touch. The qualifying guidelines are equivalent to top-4 or top-5 performance of the last Asian Games in almost all the events.
The Indian Olympic Association has made it clear that a minimum top-6 performance of the last Asian Games will be the criteria for selection in individual events for sending teams in Jakarta.
Among the top draws will be quartermiler Muhammed Anas, who broke the national record during the Gold Coast CWG with an effort of 45.31 seconds. Anas will also be competing in the 200m and he is expected to be in the men’s 4x400m relay team for the Asian Games.
The 21-year-old Gavit Murli Kumar, the second fastest Indian in 10,000m with a 28:43.34 sec effort at the Gouden Spike Meet earlier this month, would want to show that his impressive display was no fluke.
Murli, who is also competing in the 5000m race, will get a tough fight in 10,000m as the likes of G Lakshmanan and T Gopi will be in the fray.
Triple jumper Arpinder Singh, shot putter Tejinder Pal Singh Toor and high hurdler Siddhanth Thingalaya would be among the other top male athletes in action.
Among the women athletes, the young Hima Das from Assam is expected to dominate the track in the 200m and 400m.
The 18-year-old has improved by leaps and bounds in recent months. She clocked a personal best of 23.22 seconds in Poland earlier this month while she ran 51.32 seconds in 400m during the Gold Coast CWG.
Das will, however, have tough competition in both her events. In 200m, she will compete against the likes of Dutee Chand, Srabani Nanda and Nirmala Sheoran who suddenly re-surfaced after being untraceable since the 2017 World Championships in London.
In 400m, Das had run a personal best of 51.32 seconds during the Gold Coast CWG but she will be up against reigning Asian champion Sheoran (peronal best 51.28 during Fed Cup last year) and the likes of veteran M R Poovamma, Jisna Mathew and Jauna Murmu.
The women’s 4x400m relay race, which will be held on the second day on Wednesday, will be keenly watched as India has been the traditional power in Asia in this event. The country won a gold in this event in the 2014 Asian Games and is aiming to defend the title this time again.
In other women’s events, Navjeet Kaur Dhillon (women’s discus), 2014 Asian Games bronze medallist Annu Rani (women’s javelin), Sureka Renjith (women’s pole vault) are expected to dominate their respective events while Nayana James and Neena Varakil Pinto will fight it out in the women’s long jump.
Lalita Babar, who won a bronze in women’s 3000m steeplechase in 2014 Asian Games, returns to the track after a long lay-off following her marriage.
Seven gold medals will be decided on the opening day tomorrow — in women’s hammer throw, women’s discus throw, women’s high jump, men’s and women’s 400m hurdles and men’s and women’s 5000m race.