New Delhi: Indian athletics’ two biggest stars – Neeraj Chopra and Hima Das – were largely sidelined due to injuries, leaving the sport with very little to celebrate and mired in doping and age fraud controversies in yet another barren year in terms of global medals.
Amid the many disappointments, Dutee Chand scripted history by becoming the first Indian woman athlete to clinch a gold medal at the World University Games, winning the 100m event. The country also booked 2020 Olympic Games berths in mixed 4x400m relay and men’s 3000m steeplechase event (Avinash Sable).
In 2018, India watched with joy, the transformation of Chopra into a world-class javelin thrower as he grew in maturity after the 2016 world junior record to clinch both the Commonwealth and Asian Games gold medals.
But the 22-year-old from a village near Panipat injured himself during training in Patiala and underwent surgery on his right elbow in May this yea. As a result, he remained on the sidelines and could not defend his Asian Championships gold in Doha. He also missed the World Championships.
Junior world champion quarter-miler Hima, on the other hand, was in action in the first part of the season but the lower back injury she suffered after the 2018 Asian Games returned to haunt her.
She hogged the headlines with her training stint in Europe, winning six gold medals in average competitions in Czech Republic and Poland, creating a media frenzy here.
The 19-year-old “Dhing Express” from Assam, however, pulled out of the Asian Championships without finishing her first 400m race. She was named in the World Championships team but was dropped at the last minute by the Athletics Federation of India.
As usual, doping controversies hurt athletics with the biggest offender being half-miler Gomathi Marimuthu, who was stripped of her gold she won in the Asian Championships after testing positive for steroids.
Sanjivani Jadhav, who also won a bronze during the Asian Championships, was suspended provisionally for failing a dope test as her sample was found to contain a banned masking agent. Shot-putter Manpreet Kaur was banned for four years by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) for flunking four dope tests in 2017.
Athletics also became the third dirtiest sport in the country, behind bodybuilding and weightlifting, with nearly 20 doping cases this year.
Rampant age-fudging also continued as 51 youngsters were found over-aged while another 169 fled to avoid verification tests during the National Inter-District Junior Meet, which was touted as one of the biggest talent hunt programmes in the world.
More than 100 athletes were found to be over-aged in meets in 2018 and nearly 100 were again caught for age-fudging during the National Junior Championships at Guntur, Andhra Pradesh this year. Another 50 were found to be over-age during the National Youth Championships in Raipur.
In the World Championships held in Doha in September-October, the 27-member Indian team performed better than expected but did not win any medal.
The Indians entered the finals in three events – mixed 4x400m relay, men’s 3000m steeplechase and women’s javelin throw – as against one in the last edition in 2017.
Out of the three finals, 3000m steeplechaser Sable and the mixed 4x400m relay team booked Tokyo Olympics quotas while javelin thrower Annu Rani finished a creditable eighth.
Annu became the first Indian woman to qualify for javelin throw finals while Avinash broke his own national record twice in three days.
Besides winning the World Universiade gold in women’s 100m dash, Dutee also became the first Indian sportsperson to openly admit a same-sex relationship with a relative from her village in Odisha.
On the administrative front, the Athletics Federation of India President Adille Sumariwalla was re-elected as a member of the World Athletics Council for a second term.