LONG jumper Anju Bobby George leads a pack of Indian women athletes at the Asian Games attempting to ward off the Chinese challenge in the continents showpiece event.
The Indian women did a commendable job in the 2002 Busan Asiad when they upstaged their compatriots in the mens section, winning 12 of the 17 medals that included six golds.
The womens dominance is not new to Indian athletics as irrepressible sprinter and hurdler P.T. Usha made waves in the international arena after bursting on to the scene in the 1980s.
Usha, nicknamed as Payyoli Express after her hometown in southern state Kerala, provided a tremendous boost to womens athletics in the country by her extraordinary exploits, especially in Asia.
She won five gold medals at the 1985 Asian Track and Field Championships in Jakarta and four more at the 1986 Seoul Asiad, a feat unparallel in the history of these Games.
Those were the times when the supposedly unglamorous sport like athletics gripped peoples imagination in cricket-crazy India and Usha was as big a star as any Test cricketer.
India may not have an athlete of Ushas calibre now, but her deeds have inspired many women to continue the trend. Anju is the latest to come from Ushas state famous for producing outstanding athletes.
Anju has been in the limelight since winning the bronze at the 2003 World Championships in Paris, the only Indian to win a medal at a world meet.
She added another feather to her cap when she claimed the gold at the Busan Asiad, raising fans expectations in the process. Injuries may have prevented her from giving her best in recent times, but she remains the best bet.
Anju returned in August after a three-month layoff following a right ankle injury, winning gold with a 6.42m effort at the South Asian Games in Colombo. She was below her best of 6.83m but promised to do better.
I know where I stand now, she said in Colombo. This competition was a test for me and the injury was playing on my mind. I have been regularly going past 6.80m in training and so touching 7m will be my aim.
The other medal prospects in the womens section are Pinki Paramanik (400m and 800m), S. Shanthi (800m), Sinimole Paulose (1,500m) and the 4x400m squad.
Pinki, who won the title at Colombo, is not only a force to reckon with in the 400m but also a key member of the formidable relay team who are expected to repeat their Busan gold-winning performance.
She has already cornered glory in the Asian Grand Prix circuit in Bangkok, Bangalore and Pune this year, winning five gold medals and a silver.
Indias fortunes in the mens section have been steadily nose-diving in recent years and experts believe it will be an achievement of sorts if they match their overall medals tally of the last Asian Games.
Shot putter Bahadur Singh was the lone gold-medallist in Busan and the picture does not look rosy this time also in the mens section.
Only throwers Navpreet Singh (shot putt) and US-based Vikas Gowda (discus and shot putt) raise hopes of medals in Doha following their impressive performances in recent times.
Navpreet climbed to the top in the seasons lists in Asia for a brief spell in March this year following his throw of 19.84m at the Asian Grand Prix in Bangalore.
India hope their athletes peak at the right time, especially after training stints in Ukraine, Italy and, lately, Muscat. AFP