Harminder Singh won the 20-km race walk bronze in the Commonwealth Games here. It was India's first-ever medal in the walks in Commonwealth Games history and its second athletics medal in Delhi.

“I am really proud of myself…the crowd helped,” said Harminder after finishing behind Australia's Jared Tallent, the Olympic bronze medallist, and Luke Adams in 1 hr, 23.28 secs.

The 26-year-old Harminder has always lived in Babubhai Panucha's shadow. While Babubhai has been been the undisputed king of race walking in the country the last few years and the national-record holder, Harminder had not been far away but frequently one step behind. At the Asian Championship in Japan this March, the walker from AOC Secunderabad finished fifth, just behind Babubhai. The scene had been the same in many other meets too.

But early on Saturday, Harminder felt that his time had come.

Memorable outing

It turned out to be a very memorable outing for Tallent too for, his wife Claire took the silver in the women's section, behind England's Jo Jackson who ended the Australian stranglehold in the event.

With the rhythmic swaying of their hips and smooth strides, race walking is rarely a treat for the spectator. But there were plenty of incidents this morning which made the event an entertaining one.

The field was top class, with Tallent, second in the world list this year and the 2008 Beijing Olympics silver medallist in the 50km, Adams (28th in the world list) and Kenyan David Rotich (19th) in the fray.

Harminder, who moved from the 50km walk to 20km event as the longer walk is not part of the Commonwealth Games, does not figure in the world list this year. And when he said, “in the beginning I was very scared,” one could understand.

But despite the odds stacked against him, he put on a brave front, staying with the top bunch that included Adams, Tallent and Rotich for a major part of the events.

“Harminder has a very strong will power, he has been working very hard for the last two years,” said his coach Gurdev Singh.

It showed.

Meanwhile Babubhai Panucha, the Open National champion and National record holder who is recovering from a groin injury suffered during the walkers' recent camp in Russia, dropped out after 16 km.

But Harminder soldiered on, overtaking the Kenyan even as the Australians Adams and Tallent broke away and moved ahead.

On the way, Tallent slowed down to speak to, and probably encourage, his wife Claire. Claire had been Tallent's training partner in Canberra and they had fallen in love and got married two years ago. Both competed at the Beijing Olympics.

Costly stumble

With about two kilometres remaining, Adams had a small lead but he stumbled over a slight bump on the road, lost his footing and the lead.

“It was very unfortunate,” Adams would say later.

Tallent made the most of the stumble, opened up a good lead and went on to win the gold in 1:22:18 while Adams had to be content with the silver for the third consecutive time at the Games.

Harminder narrowly missed Panucha's national mark of 1:23:06.

“If he posts the same time, he will do very well in the Asian Games next month,” said Gurdev.

Rani Yadav (1:42.54) was India's best finisher in the women's 20km event with her fifth spot while K.J. Sandhya (1:51.44) was eighth. Deepamala Devi, a bronze medallist at the last Asian meet, did not finish the race.

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