FedCup Athletics review: Neeraj Chopra steals the thunder after Abha Khatua’s national record

Neeraj Chopra in Fed Cup 2024 in Bhubaneswar (Image: Subhayan Chakraborty)

Neeraj Chopra, low on intensity and high on competitive mode on Wednesday, overshadowed all else in the AFI Federation Cup Athletics Championships at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. But before he hogged the limelight, Abha Khatua scripted a women’s Shot Put national record and enhanced her chances of qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games with an 18.41m effort.

Abha, a 28-year-old Bengal-born athlete who represents Maharashtra, is among a dozen Indian athletes who, at the moment, can punch their tickets to Paris on the basis of their Road to Paris 24 rankings. As someone who breached the 18m mark only twice in six years of specialisation, she would be pleased at having improved her personal best by 35cm with that effort on Monday.

With a winning try of 20.38m in Bhubaneswar, the men’s shot put World No. 20 Tajinderpal Singh Toor ensured that he would figure high in the Road to Paris 24 rankings. He has not featured in the list thus far as he had not competed in five competitions during the qualifying period beginning July 1, 2023.

A couple of weeks before that, he had mustered a personal best of 21.77m in the National Inter-State Championships in Bhubaneswar. It remains the only instance of him going past the 21.50m mark, the distance set by World Athletics as the entry standard. But it must be said that he showed a lot of courage and resilience in competing in the Federation Cup despite dealing with trauma.

Kishore Kumar Jena, fifth in the World Athletics Championships and Asian Games silver medalist last year, has had a slow start to the season. In his three competitions since returning from Hangzhou where he briefly led Neeraj Chopra, he has not only not been able to breach the 80m mark but also been on the downward curve with best throws of 78.47m, 76.31m and 75.49m.

If we shift our focus on those who can qualify on the basis of their ranking on the Road to Paris 2024, the first name that springs to mind is DP Manu. Sixth at the 2023 World Championships, he spent some time recovering from an injury but has been passing the 80m in each of his competitions. His 82.06 in Bhubaneswar on Wednesday was part of that upward trajectory.

Disappointment was writ large as well on the face of Jeswin Aldrin, the men’s Long Jump national record holder, after he could not crank up an 8.00m leap. He got within a centimetre of that mark for his season’s best, but he has not yet met the Olympic entry standard of 8.27m. With 32 berths available in the Olympics, the Road to Paris module will add to his anxiety as he has slipped to 26th spot.


With M Sreeshankar recovering from a knee injury and ruled out of the Olympic Games, the Indian challenge will entirely on Jeswin’s shouders. His coaches and he will now have the tough task of scripting a workload. Does he prepare for the Olympic Games, or does he raise the intensity to ensure that he remains in the qualifying race with a big leap?

As for the three triple-jumpers who were the toast of the nation at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham where they nearly swept the medals at stake, only Praveen Chithravel has found the rhythm to breach the 17m mark this season. But all of them came up with sub-par performances in Bhubaneshwar, as Chithravel won with a best effort of 16.79m.

Abdulla Aboobacker and Chithravel can consider themselves in a safe zone and expect Olympic tickets on the basis of their ranking. Birmingham gold medalist Eldhose Paul has been searching for form and is ranked 71 in the world, with a younger Selva P Thirumaran placed at World No. 60.

The men’s 400m hurdler T Santhosh Kumar did not improve his Road to Paris 24 ranking with a 50.04s run in the final. He will need to go faster in the coming weeks to ensure that his average performance scores rise high enough for him not to miss out as he is currently 36th with only 40 spots available.

Long Jumper Shaili Singh and hurdler Vithiya Ramaraj, two athletes within sniffing distance of an Olympic place by virtue of rankings, travelled to Bhubaneswar. The 20-year-old Shaili took a disappointing second place behind Nayana James with a 6.32m effort. If she has to make it to the list of 32 in Paris, she will need better jumps in the coming weeks.

In an indication of not exerting effort to make it to the start line of the 400m hurdles, Vithiya focused on improving her standing in the 4x400m relay team. After an unhappy stint in the first round of the World Athletics Relay Challenge in Bahamas, she ceded her place to Rupal Chaudhary in the quartet. She clocked 52.98 seconds in the heats and 53.52 seconds in the final.

Of the others in the women’s relay squad, Rupal did not participate in the Federation Cup while MR Poovamma won women’s 400m gold in 53.32 seconds after clocking 52.87 in the heats. Dandi Jyotika Sri and Subha Venkatesan clocked 53.26 and 52.87 respectively in the heats and did not run the final.

Mohammed Ajmal, the fastest of the Indian quartermilers in the recent times, won the men’s 400m title in 45.91 seconds while Amoj Jacob, who had clocked 46.35 seconds in the semifinals, did not start the final. The other three 400m stars, Mohammad Anas Yahiya, Arokia Rajiv and Rajesh Ramesh were conspicuous by their absence in Bhubaneswar, perhaps focusing on recovery.