Joseph Abraham and A. C. Ashwini pulled off impossible-looking gold medals in the 400 metres hurdles to give a tremendous boost to India's overall medals tally on the penultimate day of track and field action in the Asian Games at the Guangdong Olympic Stadium here on Thursday.

It was the first-ever gold medal for India in the men's event in the Asiad and the first one after P. T. Usha's triumph in Seoul in 1986 in the women's event. Abraham clocked 49.96s, the same that he timed for his silver here in the Asian championships last year, just 0.45s shy of his personal best and National record. Ashwini clocked a PB of 56.15s.

Incredible evening

It was an incredible evening for the Indians after Tintu Luka disappointed somewhat while being pushed to the bronze medal position in the 800 metres which she led into the home straight.

The expected threat from World 1500m champion Maryam Yusuf Jamal did not come but it was Kazakh Margarita Matsko and Vietnamese Truong Thanh Hang who left the Indian behind in the final rush to the finish.

Both Ashwini and Abraham had given indications of their current form and expectations during the heats the previous day, the Karnataka woman winning her heat in 56.43s and Abraham coming second overall only to Asian champion Kenji Narisako.

“I knew I had the chance to win the gold after the heats,” said Abraham, a 29-year-old Railway employee, who hails from Mundakkayam, Kottayam District, Kerala. He had won the first track gold in the men's section for India since Charles Borromeo took the 800 metres in 1982. The last male gold was by shot putter Bahadur Singh Sagoo in 2002.

“My coach (Rajinder Singh) had said that I should aim for the gold. Today I knew I will win the gold. I am a cat who has tamed the lions and the tigers in their domain,” said Abraham.

Narisako who trailed Abraham, coming into the home straight, made a dash for the line, but Abraham somehow managed to hold him off. The Japanese was later disqualified for hurdling violation.

Ashwini has come out of the blue, as it were, to win a gold that no one in India would have bargained for especially after her 59-second-plus performance in the Commonwealth Games.

On Thursday as she drove towards the finish, clearing the last hurdle just ahead of Japanese Satomi Kubukora, after having got past the ninth almost together, it was clear that the Indian would win. Her flat speed and her apparent reserves were enough to get her the gold.

“I had to make a great effort after the others led,” said the 23-year-old Udupi woman. Behind her and others, Jauna Murmu clocked another PB of 56.88s, just missing the bronze with which Kubukora had to be content with being edged by Chinese Wang Xing. After P. T. Usha (National record 55.42s), no other Indian has clocked a sub-57.

The trips to Ukraine and the support of the foreign recovery expert have been of immense benefit to a select group of Indian athletes including Ashwini and Murmu.

Usha disappointed

Usha was disappointed that Tintu managed just the bronze, though she was happy that her ward had won a medal at this level on her debut.

“She lacks race experience,” said Usha . She had covered the first lap in 57.82s, not beyond her capacity, but not too slow for anyone to capitalise in the latter part. Once Jamal's challenge fizzled out even before the ‘bell,' it looked Luka had the best chance for the gold.

But Matsko kicked hard from around 80 metres out to pass Usha's protege, and the fast-finishing Truong also went past Luka towards the finish. Matsko and Truong clocked personal bests of 2:00.29 and 2:00.91 respectively. Luka had 2:01.36.

If one looked at Luka's 1:59.17, you might say this was a gold that she missed. Middle distance races do not fit into any calculations based on personal best timings. Perhaps she again made a mistake in going out too fast at the start.

Qatari Femi Ogunode completed a rare 200-400 double. Only MIlkha Singhhad achieved that back in 1958. Ogunode clocked 20.43 for the 200 metres in which Indian Suresh Sathya finished sixth in 21.07s.

Japanese Chisato Fukushima also completed the sprint double, winning the 200m in 23.62s. Satti Geetha came in a season best 23.91s. Both Indians in decathlon, Bhartender Singh, who was injured on day one, and P.J. Vinod, who was reportedly running a fever, did not start on the second day.

Prajusha pulls out

M. A. Prajusha pulled out of the triple jump final, apparently because of an injury that she was carrying before the team left. Kazakh Olga Rypakova expectedly won with 14.78m.

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