The 2022 World Athletics Championships will be held between July 15 and 24 in Eugene, Oregon, United States. India will be sending a 22-member contingent for the tournament, headlined by Olympic javelin throw champion Neeraj Chopra. ESPN outlines the four major storylines across the team:
Neeraj Chopra, world champion?
Neeraj Chopra is one of the favourites to be world champion.
Going into an athletics world championships, how many times has this been said about an Indian athlete? Ever? Chopra, though, is nothing if not unprecedented. The reigning Olympic champion took nearly ten months off after that historic night in Tokyo, but returned with a national record and then another across three meets over the past month. He's throwing longer, and more consistently, than ever before.
- Neeraj Chopra (@Neeraj_chopra1) July 4, 2022
It won't be easy, of course. Those two times he bested himself and broke his own national records (for the 26th and 27th time) he finished second. Since the start of the year, defending world champion Andersen Peters has breached the 90m mark thrice (Chopra is still six cm short of the mark), while Olympic silver medalist Jakub Vadlejch has done the same once. Not. Easy.
He also has a point to prove at the Worlds. He was out injured for the 2019 edition, and he didn't even qualify for the final in 2017 - taking qualification too lightly, by his own admission. Chopra v2022, though, is a much improved one. He's got big game mentality, and his performances speak for themselves. This time he's gunning for gold, and he's got a very real chance of grabbing it.
P.S. Rohit Yadav will make it two Indians in the event. He's been consistently throwing above 80m, and a final appearance is very much on the cards.
When is the javelin throw? Qualification @ 5:35 AM IST and 7:05 AM IST on July 22; Final @ 7:05 AM IST on July 24
Avinash Sable vs Avinash Sable continues
Sable had been competing against himself for so long in India that he decided to train overseas this year. He's been training in the United States for most of the year, competing there and across the globe; where he has continued to beat his own national record, repeatedly. He qualified after meeting the entry standard in June (quite easily) and appears to be in the best shape of his life.
He's a way off the world leading pace, and extremely unlikely to finish on the podium, but he's the 12th fastest steeplechaser in the world this year and a finals appearance on track continues to be very significant. He finished 13th (with a new national record) in the final of the 2019 edition, but he's since improved his pace by around nine seconds, a big leap. A place in the top 10 would be quite the achievement, and is more than just a mere possibility.
When is the 3000m steeplechase? Qualification @ 5:45 AM IST on July 16; Final @ 7.50 AM IST on July 19
Hop, skip, but most importantly, jump
Abdulla Aboobacker and Praveen Chitravel are 10th and 11th on the world leading list for triple jumpers. Eldhose Paul is 24th. They are all extremely outside bets for podium places, but Aboobacker and Chitravel have shown they are capable of consistent improvement, while Paul has potential. If they continue on the trajectory they seem to be on, it would make following the event quite interesting for India fans.
Even more interesting, though, will be the long jump.
Jeswin Aldrin and Murali Sreeshankar have the third and fourth best marks in the world this year. Third and fourth in the world. Muhammed Anees has the 21st best. Sreeshankar has been the most consistent of the three and has for some time been quietly confident that he can hit the kind of mark that could see him join Anju Bobby George* as Indian jumps royalty. Aldrin's best is kind of an outlier (more on that below) but if he can do what we know he can, he's a proper dark horse. Anees' jumping meanwhile has consistently been in the qualifying-for-final territory. All this makes the men's long jump the must-watch event (after Chopra and the javelin) for India fans this edition.
*Anju Bobby George won bronze in the women's long jump in 2003.
When is the long jump? Qualification @ 6:30 AM on July 16; Final @ 6:50 AM on July 17.
When is the triple jump? Qualification @ 6:50 AM IST on July 22; Final @ 6.30 AM IST on July 24
First came the Kazakhstan trip. After the announcement of the squad, the Athletics Federation of India decided to take most of the squad to Kazakhstan, where they'd compete in a minor tournament to either improve performance, meet qualification standards, or have a final competitive warm-up before the big one. That was the idea. Some athletes, though, didn't even participate as they had to return for their US Visa appointments within a couple of days. Most of the others had substandard performances. It wasn't the best moment in Indian athletics planning.
Then came the Jeswin Aldrin saga. The long jumper had already met the stringent Worlds qualifying standard in early April. In fact, it had been a jump that would have won bronze in the last edition of the Worlds. As imperfect a correlation as that may be, that is still a very decent indicator of just how good the mark (8.37m) he hit was.
The AFI, though, decided to leave him out of the squad, stating declining standards since April. Initially, at least. They then turned around and made him do two individual 'qualifiers', six jumps each in two ends of the country (Thiruvananthapuram and Patiala), where he was told to hit "around 8.10m." He didn't. A few days after he jumped a max of 7.99m across those 12 jumps he was called up for the squad. Not exactly ideal preparation for the biggest event in Aldrin's career yet.
You can understand that administrators gotta administrate, but do they have to administrate this hard?