Whatever India's limitations at the Olympics and world meets, the country’s sportsmen and women have always made an impact on the Asian Games. Right from the inaugural meet in 1951 at New Delhi when India won a total of 51 medals including 15 golds, it has almost always finished among the top half a dozen in the medals tally.

And since the new millennium when Indian athletes have started making some sort of impact even on the world stage there has been a steady surge in the medals tally culminating in the best-ever haul in the last Asian Games at Jakarta in 2018 when India won a total of 70 medals including a record 16 gold.

Hopefully, then India could better that mark in the Asian Games starting at Hangzhou (China) from September 23. The event was to be held last year but was postponed because of Covid-19.

The country’s sportsmen and women have been performing commendably at various international meets of late and what is particularly significant is the fact that India can now look for medals in other sports besides the traditional disciplines in which Indians excel – boxing, wrestling, shooting and weightlifting.

Of course Indians have performed admirably in track and field events at the Asian Games symbolised by the four gold medals won by Milkha Singh and PT Usha in previous meets but this time they are expected to score heavily from athletics. The power of one is a well-known cliché in any field but this is true of Indian sport.

To cite just a few examples Ramanathan Krishnan (tennis), Prakash Padukone (badminton) and Viswanathan Anand (chess) have played the inspirational role to perfection in their respective sports. Neeraj Chopra can now be added to that list. His superlative showing in the javelin event at the Olympics and world meets – he has won the gold medal in both – have clearly played its part in getting other Indians to excel in track and field.

This discipline is the one in which Indians have made very little headway at the world level, despite the gallant efforts of Milkha Singh (4th in the 400m at Rome Olympics in 1960) and P.T. Usha (4th in the 400m hurdles at Los Angeles Olympics in 1984).

Whereas Indians have shown marked improvement at the international level in various other sports the poor record in track and field events has stood like a sore thumb.

Thanks principally to Chopra this is now a thing of the past. At the world athletics meet at Budapest earlier this month the Indian men’s 4 X 400m relay quartet made history by qualifying for the finals.

In the heats they obliterated the Asian record by clocking two minutes, 59.51 seconds and though they clocked below three minutes for a second successive day (two minutes, 59.92 seconds) they finished fifth in the final behind USA, France, Britain and Jamaica in what was an elite field. Their superb showing did not go unnoticed especially by their rivals from powerhouses like USA and Jamaica who acknowledged that they were surprised at Indian athletes running side by side with them.

Then there are others who have caused perhaps a ripple at the international level but can be taken as probable medal winners at Hangzhou. Leading this list would be Kishore Kumar Jena and DP Manu both of whom entered the javelin throw final at Budapest. Then there is Parul Choudhary (women) and Avinash Sable (men) in the 3000m steeplechase), Jeswin Aldrin and M. Sreeshanker (long jump) and Pravin Chithravel (triple jump).

And only last week at the Indian Grand Prix at Chandigarh there was the heart-warming performance of Vithya Ramraj who narrowly missed P.T. Usha’s 39-year-old national hurdles record (55.42 seconds) with a personal best of 55.43 seconds in the 400m hurdles. A day earlier she shocked stars like Himanshi Malik and Aishwarya Mishra to win the 400 metres in another personal best of 52.40 seconds.

The 24-year-old from Coimbatore now has her eyes set on the Asian Games where she is aiming to break the 55 seconds barrier. Her twin sister Nithya who is making a name for herself in the 110 metres hurdles is also part of the Indian track and field squad for Hangzhou.

There is a large 68-member athletics squad for Hangzhou but Neeraj Chopra and the track and field stars will not be the only sportsmen and women to garner attention. Traditionally India has performed admirably in several disciplines over the years and with the upsurge in fortunes of late a record Indian contingent of 634 competitors who will figure in 38 sports has been sent for the Asian Games.

Other medal hopefuls include the men and women hockey teams, chess, kabbadi, table tennis, equestrian, archery, golf, badminton, rowing, sailing, tennis and squash.

The mood is clearly optimistic and if the general feeling is that the Indian contingent has it in them to run up a record tally of medals surpassing the 70 obtained at Jakarta it is quite justified. Indeed the performance of the squad could well herald a new and highly successful era in Indian sport.