Athletics at Commonwealth Games 2018: Team India an improved lot, but needs more work to be done
Athletics has never been the brightest spot for India at any multi-sport events, including the Commonwealth Games.
Though we have some pleasant memories at the Commonwealth, from Milkha Singh's historic gold to the legendary podium sweep at the Delhi 2010 edition, the Indian team still didn't make a major dent on the world athletics stage.
However, at Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018, we saw a new India emerging from the ashes.
With wholesome performances, and massive improvement from the previous outings, followed by a concerted effort to churn out the best by Athletics Federation of India, India, though with the same number of medals as in the previous edition, has improved a lot from the previous outings, though it has yet a long, long way to go.
The best that India delivered at the Commonwealth Games was in the field events, where they won all their medals.
In the women's discus throw, Seema Punia won her fourth successive Commonwealth medal, throwing a best of 60.51 m. in her very first attempt.
Though it was way below the performance of her competitor and the gold medalist Dani Samuels Stevens, who threw 68.51 m. in her fourth attempt, it was still enough to signs of improvement, especially after Seema suffered a drubbing at the Rio Olympics.
Equally able was Navjeet Kaur Dhillon, who clinched the bronze medal in the same event, giving the best throw of 57.43 m. in her debut appearance.
However, the standout performance came from the star javelin thrower and junior world record holder for the same, Naib Subedar Neeraj Chopra.
Almost equaling his own record of 86.48 m., which got him a historic gold medal at the World Under 20 Athletics Championships in 2016, Neeraj threw his best effort of 86.47 in his fourth attempt to garner himself a gold medal, a first for India in any javelin throw event of the Commonwealth Games.
Interestingly, the attempt of 86.47 is revolutionary, if taken in comparison with the previous multisport events.
Had he thrown the same at Incheon Asian Games, it would've been enough for a silver medal, and had this been his attempt at Rio Olympics, Neeraj would've received a historic bronze medal for sure.
With this shining achievement, Naib Subedar Neeraj Chopra would certainly look forward for his next challenges: breaking the 86 m. barrier and winning a podium finish at the Jakarta Asian Games.
Apart from the brilliant show in field events, the track and road events also had some surprises up the field, including athletes who improved by leaps and bounds to make it to the finals of their events, losing a podium finish by whiskers.
Khushbir Kaur, the national record holder for women's 20 km. race walk, came agonizingly close to winning a bronze medal, though she finished fourth ultimately in her event.
Even Manish Rawat stood a respectable 6th in the Men's event, showing promise for the upcoming events in 2018, including the Jakarta Asian Games.
The surprise discoveries of this event were Muhammad Anas from Indian Navy and rookie Hima Das, who became the first Indian sprinters to qualify for the finals of their respective 400 m. events, 60 years after legendary athlete, 'Flying Sikh' Milkha Singh had done so in his route to a historic gold at Cardiff CWG.
Though none of them managed to get on to the podium, they have shown immense promise, with Muhammad even managing to break his own national record of 45.32 seconds, and can work wonders at the upcoming Jakarta Asiad.
Even Jinson Johnson from the Men's 1500 m. showed some teeth with his national record performance of 3 minutes, 37.86 seconds, though it wasn't enough to get him a medal here.
Had it not been for the injury of an athlete, the Indian men's 4*400 m. relay team could've very well given the other runners a run for their money in the finals, given that the team had the second-best timings in the runup to the finals, i.e. 3:04.05.
However, in a few events, the chinks in the armour of Indian athletics stood exposed. While Tejinder Pal Singh Toor of the Indian Navy managed to qualify for the Men's Shot Put finals, his performance of 19.42 m. was way below his personal best of 20.45 m.
So was the case with triple jumper Arpinder Singh, whose personal best of 17.17 m. did not reflect in his performance of the Men's Triple Jump finals, where he finished an unimpressive 4th, with an average effort of 16.46 m.
Tejaswin Shankar cut a sorry figure as he finished an unimpressive 6th in the finals of the Men's High Jump.
However, the worst performance came from the women sprinters, who were nowhere near the legendary performance at Delhi Commonwealth Games, as they finished a lowly seventh in the finals of the Women's 4*400 m. relay team events, with a below average timing of 3:33.61 seconds.
Though there is a long, long way to go, Indian athletes have certainly improved on a massive level at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018, and will certainly look forward to newer challenges, as 2018 progresses further.