Takahira (left) with 4x400 relay team (Charlie Lee) © Copyright

Asian Junior Champs - PREVIEW

The 12th Asian Junior Athletics Championships take place in Macau, from Saturday 15 to Tuesday 18 July, with the Chinese and Japanese set to dominate.
At the senior level in Asia's athletics, the Chinese in recent years have proven themselves to be dominant while the likes of Qatar, Bahrain and Kazakhstan are clearly emerging powers. All this has been at the expense of the traditional powerhouse Japan to some extent.
But, at the junior level, the Japanese are still very much a force to be reckoned with. This should be evident at the 12th Asian Junior Athletics Championships, if the quality of the entries for the Japanese team is anything to go by. Perhaps the hope is that someone among them will shine brightly, the way sprinter Shinji Takahira, last year’s World Student games silver medallist over 200m, did with his three gold medals when the meet was held in Bangkok in 2003.
Not that the Chinese will give way easily. They are still sending some strong competitors. In the men’s events, Liang Jiahong (10.49 for the 100m), Liu Xiongwei (21.27 for the 200m) and Chen Xiao Chuan (46.73 in the 400m) have clocked respectable times. Other male athletes from China out to maintain its edge over Asian rivals include Gao Jie in the 1500m (3:46.90), Zou Shuai in the 400m Hurdles (52.48 secs), Huang Haiqiang in the High Jump (2.27m), Yang Yansheng in the Pole Vault (5.45m) and Li Yu in the Javelin Throw (74.51m).
The Chinese girls, as usual, are even more dominant. Among the names to watch out for are Ma Xiaoyan in the 100m (11.79), Li Xueji in the 400m (53.62), Tong Xiaomei in the 800m (2:05.75), Zhang Hongpei in the 100m Hurdles (13.81), and Zheng Xingjuan in the High Jump (1.88m).
Japan will also have to contend with countries like Qatar and  Kazakhstan. Qatar's list of entries isn't long but some quality performances are expected, as for Kazakhstan, the ones likely to make an impact include female athletes Yekaterina Yevseyeva in the High Jump (1.87m) and Anna Bondarenko in the Triple Jump (13.34m).
Japan hopes are many. In the men's events, some names to watch include Masashi Eriguchi in the 100m (10.38), Yuzo Kanemaru in the 200m (20.69), Akihiro Katsumata in the 400m (47.26), Masato Yokota in the 800m (1:48.53), Daiki Sato in the 1500m (3:42.58) and Junya Imai in the 400m Hurdles (51.15). Also keen to impress will be Takafumi Suzuki in the Pole Vault (5.21m), Noriyuki Sakurai in the Long Jump (7.56m) and Satoshi Murakami in the Triple Jump (15.73m).
Traditionally, the Japanese women are stronger in the middle distance and long distance races compared to the sprints. This trend should continue. The likes of Akane Ohta in the 1500m (4:21.60), Kazue Kojima in the 3000m (9:14.49) and Megumi Seike in the 5000m (15:44.99) are expected to vie for top honours.
This junior meet, which has attracted some 500 athletes from about 40 countries, will also feature fine talents from other countries.

India, which clearly has its fair share of talents, will field athletes like Virender Kumar Pankaj in the 400m (47.16 secs) and Vinod Raj N Paul in the Triple Jump (15.90m) in the men’s events and Jhuma Khatun in the 800m (2:08.96) and 1,500m (4:30.95) in the women’s events.

Thailand, apart from its expected good showings in the sprints and relays, will showcase promising jumper Varunyoo Kongnil who has shone in the Triple Jump (15.67m), as well as the Long Jump (7.40m).

Other athletes who are looking for creditable performances in this meet include Malaysia's Lee Hup Wei in the High Jump (2.20m) and Saudi Arabia's Ali Saad A Al Deraan in the 800m (1:49.97).
It all adds up to what is expected to be a highly engaging and engrossing meet, says Maurice Nicholas, Secretary General of Asian Athletics Association. "In line with the general international trend, junior athletics in Asia has been experiencing a sort of boom. There are plenty of youth talents around. We are hoping that more talents will be unearthed in Macau.”

Chua Chong Jin for the IAAF