By Avinash Kr Atish
New Delhi, Apr 2 (IANS): Stalwarts P.T. Usha and Anju Bobby George have been the flag bearers of women's athletics in India since a long long time and have inspired number of females to take up sports.
A graceful sprinter, P.T. Usha dominated Asian track-and-field events for most of the 1980s, winning 23 medals in all, 14 of which were gold. Long after her successful career as an athlete, she was elected as the President of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) in 2022 at the age of 58, becoming the first woman president of the IOA in its 95-year history and the first Olympian appointed as IOA chief.
On the other hand, India's first World Championships medal winner athlete, Anju Bobby George, occupies a special place in the country's track and field history. The long-jump star was also bestowed with the Woman of the Year Award by World Athletics for grooming and encouraging young girls to take up sports in India.
Not long ago, Indian fans mentioned only these two names when they had to show the country's success in athletics with regard to women. But slowly but steadily, things have changed and many more female athletes are now making their names.
After Usha and Anju, Hima Das gave India that much-awaited success. At the 2018 IAAF World Under-20 Championships at Tampere, Finland, Hima etched her name in sports history by becoming the first Indian athlete to win a gold medal at an international track event. She continued her successful run even after that.
Another female athlete, Dutee Chand, a two-time Olympian and 100m national record holder, has also been a trail blazer for Indian athletics ever since she burst onto the scene in 2013. The sprinter scripted history in 2019 at the World Universiade in Naples when she became the first Indian to clinch gold in a 100m event at a global meet.
As often said, there should be enough quality on the bench to maintain that continuity of success and India is definitely not much behind in that aspect. The likes of Priyanka Goswami, Bhawana Jat, Annu Rani and Jyoti Yerraji are India's present and future in women's athletics.
Priyanka, who competes in 20 km race walk, represented India at the Tokyo Olympics 2021, finishing in 17th position. She then won the silver in 1,0000m walk at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Recently, Priyanka also qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics and 2023 World Athletics Championships after meeting the qualifying standards in the women's 20km race walk at the National Open Race Walking Championships in Morabadi, Jharkhand.
She clocked 1:28:50 - five seconds slower than her own national record - to take top spot. Her timing was better than 1:29:20 - the qualifying standard for the women's 20km race walk event at both Paris Olympics and World Championships.
Though Bhawana Jat missed the berth by 0.24s, clocking 1:29.44 to finish behind Priyanka in the nationals, she has had noticable success in recent past.
Tokyo Olympian Bhawna along with Ravina and Munita Prajapati's combined effort won India a bronze medal in the team category of the women's 20km race walk at the 2022 World Race Walking Team Championships in Muscat, Oman. It was India's first-ever medal for women at the marquee race walking event.
As far as Annu Rani is concerned, she scripted history by becoming the first Indian female javelin thrower to win a medal, a bronze, at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last year. Annu sent the spear to a distance of 60m in her fourth attempt to finish third.
Annu has a busy season lined up in 2023 for which she has made Offenberg, Germany, her training base for the time being as she thinks training under highly-rated German coach Werner Daniels is her best chance to accomplish a target of breaching the 65m mark.
Jyothi Yarraji, who is only in her early 20s, is currently the fastest women's 100m hurdler in India.
In her international debut at the Cyprus International athletics meet in Limassol in May 2022, Jyothi set the women's 100m hurdles national record with a timing of 13.23 seconds, shattering the previous mark of 13.38 set by Anuradha Biswal way back in 2002.
Last year's Commonwealth Games in Birmingham turned out to be a disappointing one for Jyothi, who failed to make the cut for the final after finishing 10th in the first round. However, she ended the 2022 season with a flurry as she won gold in the 100m hurdles at the National Games with a new personal best of 12.79 seconds, which made her the first Indian woman to dip below the 13-second mark in her discipline.
Among the juniors, Shaili Singh (long-jump) and Priya Mohan (sprint) have also done well in the recent past.
So, as things stand, the future of women's athletics in India looks bright. It's just that they have to be careful about doping, which has historically hampered Indian athletics badly. These young women athletes need to keep improving, polish their skills and continue win laurels for the country.