Three reigning Asian champions and six silver medal winners from last year’s Asian Championships in Amman, Jordan are the best of a relatively thin turnout of talent competing at the opening of the annual Asian Grand Prix series which begins here on Monday (23).
The series will have its second halt in Korat, Thailand on 27 June and close in Hanoi, Vietnam, 30 June.
The Asian Grand Prix 2008 is one of a select group of Area meetings at which points can be acquired by athletes to qualify for the IAAF / VTB Bank World Athletics Final, to be held on 13-14 September in Stuttgart, Germany.
Obviously, there is some disappointment with less than two months to go to the Olympics in Beijing that there isn’t a greater turnout of Asia’s best athletes.
That these meets are designated for relay qualification for the Beijing Olympics should, however, provide the series with an added importance even if the individual disciplines are not going to be of the highest quality in a majority of the events.
India, in particular, will be looking forward to a good time in the women’s 4x400 metres relay in an effort to get into top-16 bracket. It may be recalled that its quartet made the final in the Athens Olympics.
Hanoi is the latest entrant as a venue for the series and Vietnam has some excellent talent in the women’s section, notably sprinter Vu Thi Huong and high jumper Bui Thi Nhung, to keep home fans cheerful.
A glance at the entries shows a strong presence of Chinese athletes in the men’s 110m Hurdles, Triple Jump and Javelin Throw and women’s Shot Put and Discus Throw.
The Indians, without their leading middle distance runners, who are away in England for training, should fancy their chances in the women’s 400 metres, Discus Throw and 4x400 relay. Of course there should be some easy pickings for them in the men’s 3000m/5000m since the field is below par without a Qatari or a Saudi Arabian.
In fact, Qatar, Saudi Arabia (barring men’s 4x400m relay), Kuwait and Bahrain have not entered at all. There are just two Japanese (sprinter Tatsuro Yoshino and javelin thrower Masato Inoue) and one Korean (high jumper Kim Young-Min) athletes in the men’s section.
Events to be contested
Men: 100m, 400m, 1500m, 3000m, 110m hurdles, High Jump, Triple Jump, Shot Put, Javelin, 4x100m relay, 4x400m relay.
Women: 100m, 400m, 1500m, 100m hurdles, 400m hurdles, High Jump, Long Jump, Triple Jump, Shot Put, Discus, 4x100m relay, 4x400m relay.
Possible match-ups in key events
100m: Chinese Wen Yongyi, who won two of the three legs on the circuit last year surprisingly did not make the final of the Asian Championships in Amman. The man who beat him in Guwahati (India) last year, Thai Wachara Sondee, finished fourth in Amman. The two should renew their battle in the current series. Indonesian Suryo Agung Wibowo, who beat Sondee here this season, could be a threat to both.
400m: Prasanna Amarasekara is the reigning Asian champion. He was beaten by Chinese Wang Liangyu in all the three legs last year. He will not have to contend with the Chinese this time, but the man who took the silver behind him at Amman, Iranian Reza Boazar, is there and that should be good challenge in a modest field. Another Sri Lankan, Rohit Pushpakumara, and Indian K. M. Binu, fourth at Amman, should contribute towards what looks like an open contest.
1500m: Sajjad Moradi of Iran who clocked a national record of 3:38.80 in Teheran last season, should start the firm favourite. The others in the rest of the field are 3:45 runners. Moradi had won the silver behind Saudi Mohamed Othman Shahween at Amman and he should find the going easy here.
110m Hurdles: Chinese Yin Jing, who was eighth in Amman will probably have countryman Xie Wenjun to tackle over the ten flights of hurdles. Iranian Asgari Rohollah, a 13.80s hurdler, could provide some resistance to the expected Chinese domination.
High Jump: The 2006 Asian Games champion and silver winner in the last Asian Championships, Jean Claude Rabbath of Lebanon, should be the odds-on favourite. Chinese Taipei’s Tsao Chih-Hao who set a national record of 2.23m metres last year, along with Korean Kim Young-Min and Chinese Wang Chen can make it an interesting contest. Indian Hari Sankar Roy has not shown the kind of form that fetched him a national record of 2.25 in 2004 during recent competitions, but should not be discounted.
Triple Jump: Zhong Minwei and Gu Junjie, the two Chinese who topped the Asian lists last year, were absent at Amman, paving the way for an easy title win for Indian Renjith Maheswary. Both the Chinese are here and though they have not been in any great form of late, they should find the going smooth considering the lack of depth in the field that has been assembled. Maheswary has struggled to cross 16 metres since the Osaka World Championships while his team-mate, Amarjeet Singh, fresh from a 16.67 triumph in the National Championships, looks better equipped to cross swords with the Chinese.
100m: Asian Games champion Guzel Khubbieva of Uzbekistan will have to look out for team-mate Lyubov Perepelova. Chinese Qin Wanping and Vietnamese Vu Thi Huong should also be formidable contenders in a good field that looks a replica of the 2007 line-up minus Sri Lankan Susanthika Jayasinghe. Khubbieva had won two of the three legs last year, getting beaten in the other by Jayasinghe. Perepelova is staging some sort of a comeback and her form is in the realm of conjecture.
400m: Indian Mandeep Kaur is in great form this season. She has had two timings below 52 seconds this month. She looked strong while finishing the lap at Madurai the other day in 51.74 seconds. It is doubtful whether anyone will be able to challenge her through the three fixtures. Potentially, team-mate Chitra Soman who won the last Asian title, and Chinese Chen Jingwen and Tang Xiaoyin and Sri Lankan Menaka Wickramasinghe, bronze medallist at Amman, look capable of making it a contest.
High Jump: Two medal winners from Amman, second-placed Yeketerina Yevseyeva and bronze medalist Anna Ustinova are here. The Kazakhs might have to contend with Vietnamese Bui Thi Nhung in the fight for gold. Marina Aitova of Kazakhstan, who swept the titles last year and went onto win the Asian gold, will be missed this time.
Long Jump: Anju George will be assessing her form in the run-up to the Olympic Games after having opened the season rather modestly with 6.50 in Kochi, India. She repeated that at the National last Wednesday. Anastasiya Juravlyeva, also entered in Triple Jump where she should be the clear favourite, can stretch the Indian. George whose best of 6.83 came at the Athens Olympics is looking forward to a jump of around 6.75 metres. She has not crossed 6.65 during the last two seasons.
Discus Throw: Chinese Sun Taifeng, No. 1 in the Asian lists, should be the woman to beat. Though the towering presence of Song Aimin will be missed this time, the field will be good enough to provide a high caliber competition. Sun Taifeng has touched 60.94 this season. The other Chinese in the line-up, Li Yanfeng, who took the silver in Amman last year, has reached 63.79. Indian Harwant Kaur joined the Olympic qualifiers with an ‘A’ standard performance of 61.09 in Madurai four days ago. Seema Antil, the Indian record holder, who has not managed a 59.0m this season, is aiming for the ‘A’ standard. A tough contest is on the cards.
Relays: Thailand in both the sprint relays and Saudi Arabia and India in the men’s and women’s longer relays respectively should be the favourites. Winning will be of little relevance compared to the timings achieved in an effort to qualify for the Olympics. India, in particular, has put everything into its preparations in the women’s 4x400m but an injury to national record holder Manjeet Kaur could pose problems for the team that is targeting 3:30-3:31.
By an IAAF Correspondent