Indian athletics is yet to open its medal account in the Olympics but track and field contingent is set to be a sizeable one in the Rio Games next year with 15 having made the cut so far.
Ace discus thrower Vikas Gowda, the reigning Commonwealth Games and Asian champion, was among the latest three who qualified for Rio this month after the IAAF lowered the entry standards in order to achieve the target number of participants.
Gowda was struggling the whole year to reach the earlier entry standard of 66.00m but he benefited from IAAF’s recent decision to lower the qualification mark to 65.00m, which he had crossed in the Jamaican International Invitational Meet in May with a throw of 65.14m.
More qualifications are expected in the run-up to the Games and that will make the number of athletes in Indian contingent for Rio one of the biggest in recent years.
On the flipside, Indians came back without any worthwhile show in the World Athletics Championships in August in Beijing, except for the 3000m steeplechsaser Lalita Babar who finished a creditable eighth and also set a national record of 9:27.86.
The United States-based Gowda, in his fifth World Championships campaign, made it to his third final but ended up ninth with a poor throw of 63.84m, well below his season’s best of 65.14m and his own national record of 66.28m.
In other events, Asian champion Inderjeet Singh (men’s shot put) finished 11th and last in the final round while Tintu Luka (women’s 800m) failed to qualify for semifinals.
She though got the consolation of crossing the Rio Olympics qualification time of 2:01.00, clocking her season’s best of 2:00.95 to finish seventh in the heats.
All the seven race walkers (Gurmeet Singh, Chandan Singh and Baljinder Singh in men’s 20km; Khushbir Kaur and Sapna in women’s 20km; Sandeep Kumar and Manish Singh Rawat in men’s 50km) who took part in the championships brought up the rear.
In the women’s marathon, O P Jaisha smashed her own national record with a timing of 2:34:43 to finish 18th with compatriot Sudha Singh just behind her.
The Indian women’s 4x400m team crashed out at the heat stage. The quartet of Luka, MR Poovamma, Debasree Majumdar and Jisna Mathew finished last in an eight-team heat with a season’s best timing of 3:29.08.
However, the Asian Championships held two months earlier in Wuhan (China) saw the Indians doing better. India ended the event in third position, the best finish after 2007, with 13 medals, including four gold. The gold winners were Inderjeet, Gowda, Babar and Luka.
Off the field, the highlight of athletics was Dutee successfully fighting a case against IAAF’s hyperandrogenism policy, which bars female athletes with higher level of male hormones than permissible limits, from competing.
Dutee, who was left out of the 2014 Commonwealth Games team after a test conducted on her revealed that her androgen levels were higher than normal, filed an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, challenging the IAAF policy.
The Switzerland-based CAS suspended the IAAF’s hyperandrogenism policy for two years pending a final decision while allowing Dutee to resume her athletics career after nearly a year’s break.
India achieved a significant representation in the world body’s ruling council with Athletics Federation of India’s President Adille Sumariwalla becoming one of its members in the polls held just before the World Championships which elected former Olympics middle-distance champion Sebastian Coe as the president.
Coe, whose grandfather is an Indian, visited India in his first tour to a member country within a month of his election as IAAF chief to discuss with the AFI top brass how the sport could be given a push in the country.
Commonwealth Games corruption scandal tainted official Lalit Bhanot was elected as the vice-president of the Asian Athletics Association in June.
The AAA Council also made former IOA chief Suresh Kalmadi, who was also jailed in connection with the CWG corruption scandal, as its life president for his contribution to Asian athletics during his 13-year reign (2000-13) at the helm of affairs.
The AAA also awarded the 2017 edition of the Asian Championships to Ranchi, the third time overall the country is hosting the event after 1989 and 2013.
In a first in athletics, British Olympian Derek Boosey took charge as the High Performance Director with an aim to to ensure India win at least one medal in athletics by 2020 Olympics.
Boosey’s appointment made athletics only the second sport in the country after hockey which has a High Performance Director under government rolls.
In a controversial decision, dope-tainted Ukrainian Yuri Ogrodnik was brought back as the athletics coach, four years after he was shunted out of the country for his alleged involvement in the 2011 doping fiasco.
The 77-year-old Yuri’s appointment was finally cleared by the government after a long delay as the AFI insisted on it and interestingly he took charge of the women’s 4x400m relay team with almost all of the 2011 dope offenders joining him in their preparations for the Rio Olympics.
Belarussian long distance running coach Nikolai Snesarev, who has the likes of Babar, Sudha and Jaisha under his watch, threatened to quit during the National Open Championships in September, citing poor infrastructure as the primary reason.
The issue got resolved after Sports Authority of India extended his contract beyond the Rio Olympics.
Athletics got its share among the Arjuna Awardees this year with quartermiler M R Poovamma being conferred with the prestigious honour.
Towards the end of the year, India made a bid to host a major international event — IAAF Under-20 World Championships — after the world governing body of the sport took it from Russia in the aftermath of the doping scandal that shook that country and athletics world.