After Archery, we will move to the most popular section of the Olympic Games- Athletics: Track, road and field events.
Arguably the most exciting races to watch, thanks to the presence of superstars like Usain Bolt, the Indian contingent has never really made its presence felt- often attributing their lack of success here to weather conditions, lack of training facilities, cricket obsessions and no infrastructure.
It is a wonder then, that countries from Africa like Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria dominate the long-distance endurance events. Popular opinion is that the only way Indians can make it to London in these categories is by being hard-trained in the Army, Navy or security agencies.
Sooner or later, though, the Indian code must be broken.
14 Indian Athletes are part of this section, with most of them being limited to competing in local marathons and government-sponsored races. Starting with the Men-
Basanta Bahadur Rana- 50 Km. Walk
The first ever athlete to represent India in the relentless 50 Km Walk category, Rana is a 28-year old professional ‘walker’, who has been part of the Gorkha Regiment of the Indian Army since 2002. That he has made it to the Olympics is a massive achievement in itself, but he must now aim to get India on the map in probably the toughest endurance event at the Olympics. His best time is 4 Hours and 2 minutes.
Baljinder Singh- 20 Km. Walk
With an impressive personal best of 1 hour 22 minutes, Singh is a 26 year old Sikh from Chandigarh, Punjab who has made his way up by training at the Sports Authority of India in Bangalore under Ramakrishnan Gandhi. Still, he must aim for a sub 1 hour 20 minute time to be in consideration for a medal spot, with most Olympic records (dominated by Europeans) hovering around the 1.18 mark.
Baljinder Singh, the Walker
Gurmeet Singh- 20 Km Walk
Partnering Baljinder in the same category will be India’s greatest hope in the 20 km walk race- the current 27 year old Indian record holder Gurmeet Singh. Again, a product of Sports Authority of India and Ramakrishnan Gandhi, the Uttarakhand lad has been picked up by Mittals Champions Trust, owing to his return to form in late 2010. A consistent top-10 finisher in Asian events, he will need to break his own national mark of 1.21.30 in order to sneak into a medal scoring position at London.
Irfan Kolothum Thodi- 20 Km Walk
Thodi is from Kerala (rare for a long distance athlete), and is relatively unknown but for his fabulous qualifying effort in February 2012. He trains at the high altitude Madras Regimental Centre in Wellington, and joins his two more experienced countrymen as the third and final participant in this category.
Ram Singh Yadav (Marathon)
The most well-known amongst the Indians competing in track and field events, Yadav is popular as the Indian winner of Mumbai Marathon 2012, where he clinched his Olympic berth with a time of 2.16.59. It is a full circle for this Army man, who experienced the most bitter moment of his life in 2008 where he missed the Beijing bus by 3 seconds. Kalmadi had to backtrack on his words about Yadav qualifying, leaving the best Indian distance runner to contemplate on what might have been. His has been a story of determination, courage and not giving up on his dream. He even managed to shave off 9 minutes of his previous time, almost keeping up with the Champion Kenyan runners. He is now aiming to match idol Shivnath Singh’s inspiring 1976 Olympic performance.
Ram Singh Yadav, the Marathon Man
Vikas Gowda (Discus Throw)
The National record holder, born in Mysore and a United States resident. His personal best of 66.29 meters is miles ahead of his tepid effort at Beijing 4 years ago, where he failed to make the finals. He is a Commonwealth silver medalist, and heads into London high on confidence.
Om Prakash Karhana (Shot put)
One of the biggest men present at the Olympics (apart from the Wrestlers), Karhana is 6 feet 7 inches tall and weighs 138 kilos. Supported by the Olympic Gold Quest, he holds the national shot put record of 20.69 meters.
Renjit Maheshwary (Triple Jump)
An ex-Asian Games Winner, and bronze medalist at the Commonwealth Games, this triple-jumper from Kerala (again) holds the national record at 17.07 meters. He is a gold medalist at the Asian Grand Prix 2012, but failed to make it to the finals in the 2007 World Championships. This will be his second representation at the Olympics after 2008.
The Indian women at London:
Tintu Luka (800 mts)
Yet another runner from Kerala, Luka is trained by none other than P.T. Usha, and is a national record holder. She disappointed at the 2010 Commonwealth games after winning the Junior Championships, finishing 6th. She then finished 3rd in the Asian Games, still struggling to pace herself during the final stretch. P.T. Usha still considers her to be India’s best medal hope in the running category.
Sudha Singh (3000m Steeplechase)
An Asian Games winner in 2010, she holds the national record of 9:47.70, after breaking her own 2010 record in June 2012. India’s latest entry into their Athletic contingent.
Seema Antil (Discus Throw)
Antil, from Harayana, is a 29 year old thrower who has had a checkered history- after being stripped off her Junior gold medal (2000) for testing positive for a banned drug. She was part of the 2004 Athens Games, where she finished 14th with a throw of 60.64 mts. She missed the 2006 Asian Games, and won the bronze medal in the recent 2010 Commonwealth games.
Mayookha Johny (Triple Jump)
The first Indian woman to cross the 14 mt mark, this Kerala-born athlete was only the third ever Indian jumper to qualify for the final of an Individual event (Long Jump) at the World Championships in Athletics. Despite trying for Olympic qualification for Long Jump, she was 0.21 mts short and settled for a berth as India’s only woman Triple jumper at London.
Krishna Poonia (Discus Throw)
A first-ever Indian woman gold medalist of the Commonwealth Games, she is probably India’s best medal hope in track and field. She failed to reach the finals of the 2008 Beijing Olympics after finishing 10th in the qualifiers. Needless to mention, she is a national record holder. She has trained abroad out of her own pocket, thanks to the Government’s absolute mismanagement of funds- rewarding her with 10 lakh cash prize after the 2010 Commonwealth Games, but refusing a 1 lakh assistance for training abroad. 30-year old mother Poonia will go to London as one of India’s brightest hopes.
Krishna Poonia, Mother India
Sahana Kumari (High Jump)
Breaker of the 8 year old national record at Hyderabad this year, 31 year old Kumari heads into the Olympics knowing it will be her first and final chance to experience and savour the magic of being India’s only high-jumper, male or female, at London.
Tomorrow, we cover Badminton and Boxing- arguably India’s best chance of winning multiple medals at London.