Indian women made an explosive start to their Asian Games athletics campaign, with Preeja Sreedharan and Kavita Raut scripting an unprecedented one-two in the 10,000 metres and Sudha Singh winning the 3000 metres steeplechase gold at the end of the opening day's programme here on Sunday.
Never before had the country won a medal in this event in the Asian Games, included in the programme from 1986. No one could have imagined that there could be a gold-silver sweep by Indians in the 25-lapper, barring perhaps the proud medallists themselves and their coach, Nikolai Snesarev.
Even Snesarev could not have bargained for the gold from Sudha as she decimated a small field of six runners, in winning with a time of 9:55.67.
Both Preeja and Sudha bettered their National records while providing this dream start to Indian athletics at the Guangdong Olympic Stadium, at Aoti complex. Preeja timed 31:50.47, bettering her National record of 32:04.41 set at Watford, England, in 2008. Sudha improved on her performance of 9:57.63 that fetched her only the fifth place in the Delhi Commonwealth Games.
To be left behind in an 11-woman race in the 10,000 metres, happened to be Bai Xue, China's World champion in marathon, and one of the favourites here, who had won last year's Asian title in this event. In fact the near capacity crowd of 80,000 seemed to have come just to see Bai Xue winning, for, nearly half of the crowd they started dispersing the moment the race was over though there were other Chinese to get into action later.
“The coach had told us that there would be two medals for India if we ran our normal race. I was confident before the race,” said Preeja, the 28-year-old Kerala woman, who just a month and a half ago was in tears after finishing seventh in the Commonwealth Games.
The Bahraini, Shitaye Eshete, and a pair of Japanese, Ysohimoto Hikari and Kayoko Fukushi had dictated the pace almost throughout the race with the Indians content to be in the top six to seven positions till with three laps to go.
At the bell, Eshete, a former Ethiopian, was just ahead, with Preeja close behind. Kavita came back from about 250 metres to go to get into medal position.
Preeja ‘kicked' with 120 metres to go, with Eshete responding well. Onto the straight, Preeja had the drive to get past the Bahraini from 95 metres out, while Kavita came from behind to go through for the silver.
Both the Japanese had sub-32 timings this season and could have been expected to be among the medals. Sudha said she was determined to win a medal after her CWG disappointment, but did not expect the gold in the event that was making its Asiad debut.
“It was good to get the gold after such a fight with the Chinese (Jin Yuan),” the U.P. woman said.
The Chinese who tried to make up too much through the final 200 metres, was just four-hundredth of a second behind the Indian. The top Chinese, who headed the Asian lists this season, Li Zhenzhu (:46.05) was withdrawn at the last moment. Sudha was behind both Japanese Minori Hayakari who took the bronze and Jin Yuan in the season lists.
Women's 400m final
Going through to Monday's women's 400m final were Manjeet Kaur (53.13) at fifth best and Mandeep Kaur (53.93) at sixth best, as Kazakh Marina Maslenko clocked the best (52.35s) in the heats.
The men, Bibin Mathew (46.93) and Shakeh Mortaja (47.75s), however, did not make it past the first round. Abdulnajeeb Qureshi (10.50) and Krishnakumar Rane (10.64) and H. M. Jyothi (12.04) went through to the second round in the 100 metres.
In the morning, walkers Harminder Singh (1:26:33) and Baljinder Singh (1:28:06) finished sixth and seventh among eight finishers in the men's 20km walk. The Chinese made it a one-two, with 2009 World championship silver medallist, Wang Hao, winning in a season best 1:20:50, and Chu Yafei claiming the silver in 1:21:57.
National record-holder Hari Sankar Roy qualified for the final of the men's high jump event, in 11th place among 12 qualifiers, with 2.10m, but team-mate Nikhil Chittarasu, making his Asaid debut, went out on a countback as he too cleared 2.10m.
Keywords: Asian Games 2010