Qatar’s Samuel Francis becomes Asian Championships 100m champion (AFP / Getty Images) © Copyright
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Francis, Kamel and George to provide the highlights - Asian Indoor Champs PREVIEW

Qatar’s Samuel Francis, Bahrain’s Yousef Saad Kamel, and Indian long jumper Anju Bobby George are among the leading athletes expected to headline the 3rd Asian Indoor Championships at the Aspire Zone in Doha, Qatar (14-16 February 2008).

Around 120 athletes from 31 athletes are expected to compete in the third running of these championships to assess the form of Asian athletes who are also expected to feature in the 12th IAAF World Indoor Championships in Valencia, Spain (7-9 March 2008).

Francis set to hosts’ medal aspirations

After the successful hosting of the 15th Asian Games in 2006, Qatar will once again welcome the cream of Asia’s athletic talent to the magnificent ASPIRE Academy in Doha.

And the home nation’s hopes of grabbing medals in these championships will lay heavily on sprinter Samuel Francis as he hopes to continue his rich vain of form from 2007.

The 20-year-old, who changed allegiances from Nigeria to Qatar last year, is currently second in the world lists for the 60m in the ‘current’ season with his 6.54 performance in Macao in October 2007. Francis is expected to be unchallenged in his pursuit of a first Asian Indoor Championship title on home turf, but Oman’s Barakat Al Harthi (6.63) and Saudi Arabia’s Yaser Al Nashri (6.68) hope to figure in the medal positions.

In the women’s 60m, Bahrain’s Ruqaya Al Ghasara, who won her country’s first sprint gold in the Asian Games fifteen months ago, is the undoubted favourite.  However, she is not the fastest runner in the field with Thai duo of Nongnich Sanrat (7.28) and Sangwan Jaksunin (7.49) aiming to upset the Bahraini sprinting sensation.

Kamel set for comeback 

Bahrain’s Yousef Saad Kamel was one of the stars fifteen months ago with his clinically-taken victory in the men’s 800m at the Asian Games. But after a mixed 2007 where he run 1:43.87 in Monaco but failed to get past the semi-finals in the World Championships in Osaka, Japan, Kamel is now hoping to return back to the form that saw him win at the World Cup in 2006.

Kamel did much of his training in Ethiopia under the tutelage of coach Tareq Sabt Yacoob who is eager for his athlete to hit major championship form. The 24-year-old should face little opposition in his bid to improve on his bronze medal from 2004, but Iran’s Ehsan Mohajershojei, bronze medallist in the Asian Games, will be eager to rediscover the form that saw him Iran’s only track medal.

Qatar to dominate distance events

Host nation Qatar will hope for gold in the men’s 1500m and 3000m. Asian Games 1500m champion Daham Bashir surprised many fifteen months ago by beating the Bahrain duo of Ali Mensoor Belal and Rashid Ramzi. With his two chief opponents not competing this year, Bashir will start as an overwhelming favourite with compatriot Abubakar Kamal and Japan’s Fumikazu Kobayashi also in the medal hunt.

And Qatar will hope to complete a clean sweep of the medals in the men’s 3000m with Asian Games 5000m champion James Kirui, bronze medallist Sultan Zaman, and youngster Felix Kibore all taking part.

In the women’s middle distance events, Kamel’s training partner Sara Bakheet and India’s Asian Games silver medallist Sinimol Paulose will have their eyes on the latter’s championship record in the 1500m. Both athletes are entered in two events with Paulose also tackling the 800m, while Bakheet looking odds on favourite to win the women’s 3000m.

George highlights field events

Indian long jumper Anju Bobby George has been one of the jewels of Asian athletics since she won a surprise bronze at the 2003 World championships in Paris, France. The 2005 Asian champion is the favourite in the women’s Long Jump with China’s Yaling Chen being her closest challenger.

In the women’s High Jump, the stage is set for Kyrgyzstan’s Tatyana Yefimenko to continue her continental dominance. The Asian champion and record holder has an indoor personal best 1.95m and is also her national indoor record holder.

Chinese athlete Gong Lijiao is the favourite in the women’s Shot Put, while Kazakhistan’s Olga Rypakov, the 2006 Asian Games Heptathlon champion, has opted only for the Triple Jump this year.

Japan’s Asian outdoor Games champion and former two-time outdoor champion Daichi Sawano is the top contender in the men’s Pole Vault.

Elshadai Negash for the IAAF