It's been 16 years since India won it's last -- and only -- medal at the Athletics World Championships. The wait to replicate Anju Bobby George's achievement in the women's long jump, back in 2003, is unlikely to get over at the Doha edition of the World Championships, set to take begin on September 27.
With a 27-strong contingent heading to the competition, the largest ever sent by India, the target will be to set personal bests and perhaps achieve the qualification standards for the 2020 Olympics.
Just one Indian athlete -- KT Irfan in the 20km race walk -- has managed to achieve that mark so far. Should they not qualify directly at the World championships, a strong performance should boost their world ranking which would help them in the race to Tokyo.
Targeting a final
On paper, the most likely Indian to make a final will be javelin thrower Shivpal Singh. The 24-year-old won silver in the Asian Championships with a personal best throw of 86.23m in April. That mark ranks him as the 12th best athlete in the men's javelin throw this year, and should things go according to plan it would allow him to become only the second Indian javelin thrower to reach the final of a Worlds (after Devender Kang in 2017).
Also in with a slim chance of making the semifinals, if not the finals, is 1500m runner Jinson Johnson. The Asian Games gold medalist clocked a new national record of 3.35.24 to win silver at the IAAF Worlds Challenge ahead of a very strong field. And while he's just the 33rd fastest over the distance this year, he will hope a strong performance, coupled with a relatively strategic run from his competitors, might propel him deep into the competition.
Targeting national records
None of Avinash Sable in the 3000m steeplechase, M Sreeshankar in the long jump, and Annu Rani in the javelin are expected to mix it up amongst the best in their field. However, considering the form these athletes are in, it seems likely that they will be able to get close to their own national records.
Sable's national record of 8.28.94, set at the Federation Cup in March, for instance, places him as just the 68th best runner in that event this year. Sreeshankar, 20, has a season's best jump of exactly 8m, which places him 26th of 27 participants at the world championships. However, he will be hopeful the high-level competition pushes him close to or beyond his national record of 8.20m. With the Olympic standard set at 8.22m, Sreeshankar will think he has more than a fair shot of matching that standard in Doha.
For Annu Rani, a final qualification is unlikely considering her best throw this season of 62.34m (at the Federation Cup) places her just 23rd among all women's javelin throwers this year. But the 27-year-old will be confident of throwing around that mark, and perhaps coming close to the Olympic qualification standard of 63.50m. She has thrown above the 60m mark at seven different competitions this year, and appears to be shaping up well with a throw of 61.79m earlier this month at the Jana Mazance Memorial in Czech Republic.
Struggles in the relays
The Indian relays squads were expected to be the country's best bets at the World Championships based on their performance at last year's Asian Games, where the men won a silver medal and the women and mixed team quartets won gold. Injuries to some and indifferent form for others, have taken a heavy toll on those expectations.
The women's squad looks particularly vulnerable with national record holder Hima Das and Saritaben Gaikwad missing in action. It is unlikely that the rest, helmed by MR Poovama, will be able to match up to the standard set at the previous Asian Games.
Prospects look just a little better amongst the mixed team. While Rajiv Arokia -- the second-fastest Indian over 400m -- is not competing, the team have found a useful talent in Nirmal Noah Tom who recorded a personal best of 45.75s this season. With national record holder Muhammad Anas (SB 45.21s) and VK Vismaya (SB 52.12s) in good form recording personal bests this season, India stands a better chance in this event.