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Federation Cup in spotlight as athletes look to get careers back on track

Hima Das finished sixth in a world-class field at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Michael Steele/Getty Images

While the Indian domestic athletics calendar is well underway - four Indian Grand Prix events and the national racewalking championships have already been concluded -- the 23rd Federation Cup, which begins in Patiala on Friday, remains a significant milestone on the circuit. While a few top names will be missing the tournament, it will serve as the final chance for Indian athletes to qualify for the Asian Championships and a chance for others to get their careers back on track.

Last chance for the Asian Championships

As things stand, only seven Indian athletes - Dutee Chand (200m), Dharun Ayyasamy (400m hurdles), Tejinder Toor (men's shot put), Lili Das and PU Chitra (both women's 1500m), Manjit singh and Ajay Saroj (men's 1500m) - have met the Athletics Federation of India's guidelines for the Asian Championships over the four Indian Grand Prix events that have been held over the last month. Another two - Neeraj Chopra (javelin throw) and Seema Punia (women's discus) - have been granted exemption from participating in Patiala.

Long jump national record holder M Sreeshankar has also been allowed to compete in separate trials in April owing to injury. That's a long way away from the 87 athletes who competed to win 29 medals at the 2017 Asian Championships. For the rest of Indian athletes, the Federation Cup remains the final competition in which to meet the AFI's guidelines for the Asian Championships.

A few big names opt out

The 2017 edition of the Federation Cup saw fast times, long throws and big jumps owing to the fact that it was seen as the final qualification event for the Commonwealth Games. That standard of competition won't be there this time around. National record holder Tejaswin Shankar already has a jump of 2.28m, recorded in the collegiate circuit this season but won't be flying down to India. Long Jumper Sreeshankar is also carrying an injury. National record holders Tejinder Pal Toor (shotput) and Dutee (100m) will also be skipping the event, as they prepare for the Asian Championships abroad.

Watch out for Hima

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2018 edition of the Federation Cup was quartermiler Hima Das, who won her maiden national gold over that distance. That was the breakout moment for Hima, who would go on to win a gold medal in the women's 400m at the Junior World Championships and set a new national record in the same event at the Asian Games later that year.

Hima, though, seems to have slipped from those heady heights. Competing at the third Indian GP of the season, she clocked a time of 55.19 seconds, the slowest competitive race of her short career. National coach Galina Bukharina said the six-week break Hima had taken at the start of the year in order to prepare for her school exams had cost her and that it would take a year or two to recover her form. Hima would certainly hope to get back on track faster than that, and the Federation Cup would be a good stage to do just that.

Packed javelin throw field

India's only genuine world class athlete, Neeraj Chopra, will be opting out of the Federation Cup. In his absence, a lot of eyes will be on his compatriot Davinder Kang. The 30-year-old Kang had been a fast rising prospect in 2017, winning an Asian Championship bronze and becoming the first Indian to qualify for the final of the javelin throw at the World Championships. Kang's career appeared to have been halted after he was suspended for failing a drug test in 2018 but was recently cleared of that charge by the Athletics Integrity Unit and WADA.

Kang, though, isn't the only athlete who should do well in the javelin throw event. There are 38 participants in the men's javelin event, the most at the Federation Cup and three - Abhishek Drall, Vipin Kasana and Abhishek Singh - have already cleared 75m this season.