Sun | Jan 24, 2021

Vassell predicts big things for Indian athletics

Published:Monday | January 11, 2021 | 12:12 AMHubert Lawrence/Gleaner Writer

“India could soon be a power in world athletics.” That is the view of experienced Jamaican coach Michael Vassell, who has just returned from a two-year stint in India. Vassell has pinpointed world junior champions Neeraj Chopra and Hima Das as the athletes leading the charge.

Vassell, the godfather of the local throws movement, said Indian track and field is poised for take off.

“I would say yes, as there is a proliferation of sporting academies that are focused on identifying and developing grassroots talent in most states,” he said, as he reflected on his time at the Andrah Pradesh Centre of Excellence, which is on the eastern coast of the vast country. “The challenge in India is the need to get international coaches who have been exposed at the level required to then impart this knowledge to both coaches and athletes.”

Vassell predicted that the nation of 1.3 billion people will emerge first in the field events.

Best Chances

“Their best chances lie in javelin and the jumps,” he said. “They have a great athlete in World junior record holder Neeraj Chopra, who has the weight of the nation on his back in the javelin event.”

Chopra has had the beating of Grenada’s surprise 2019 World Champion Anderson Peters in the past. He was the 2016 World Under-20 champion and 2018 Commonwealth Games winner, with Peters third on both occasions. Great on big days, Chopra set a World Under-20 record of 86.48 to deny Peters in 2016, and a season’s best of 86.47m, with the senior javelin to take the Commonwealth title.

The Indian hero was injured in 2019.

Vassell also mentioned 2017 NCAA high jump winner Tejawin Shankar and added, “there are also some promising long jumpers both male and female, one of whom is mentored by India’s lone World medallist, Anju Bobby George.”

In addition to George’s 2003 World Championship bronze, India has just two medals in Olympic track and field competition. Norman Pritchard placed second in both the 200m, and the 200m hurdles at the 1900 Games.

Chopra and Das, the 2018 World Under-20 400m women’s champions, are big stars at home, Vassell reported.

“These athletes are treated as superstars, especially in their home states and cities,” he said. “Their popularity is noticeable considering they’re not cricketers.”

Vassell is also noted for helping discus thrower Chad Wright to a place in the Jamaican team to the 2019 World Athletics Championships, and the qualifying distance for the Tokyo Olympics.