The Indian tri-colour fluttered proudly as Vikas Gowda gifted himself the discus gold, ahead of his 30th birthday falling on Friday, on the second day of the 20th Asian athletics championships at the Shiv Chhatrapati stadium, Balewadi, on Thursday.
It was the Karnataka thrower’s first ever major title following his silver medal hauls at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and at the 2005 and 2011 editions of the Asian meet, besides a bronze in the last Asian Games in Guangzhou, China.
Besides Gowda’s gold, M.R. Poovamma brought home the silver in the women’s 400m and Ratiram Saini helped himself to the men’s 10,000m bronze at the expense of compatriot Kheta Ram in a close finish after Bahrain had assured itself of a 1-2 in the gruelling 25-lapper.
Gowda began his day quite modestly, managing a none-too-impressive 58.64m on his first attempt. He no marked the second, sending the disc crashing into the net before taking the lead with a 61.81m on his third.
However, the joy — with which the crowd greeted this attempt — was short-lived as eventual silver medallist Mohammad Samimi (Iran) moved to the pole with an attempt of 61.93m.
The burly Indian — who stands 6 feet 9 inches tall and weighs a solid 110kgs — was not be denied. He packed his best for the next round and settled the issue with a solid 64.90m — also his best throw on Indian soil.
“My hard work over the last 15 years has finally paid off,” said the proud winner. “As the National anthem was being played at the medal ceremony, my mind was playing out the struggle that my parents had undergone all these years.
“I would like to dedicate this win to my parents. After the rain all through last evening, I was jittery on how the weather would turn out to be this evening. I am happy that the weather gods too came to my rescue.
“This win is also certain to put me in the right frame of mind for the World championships in Moscow,” said Gowda at the post-event media conference.
China which opened its campaign with two gold medals on Wednesday added three more to its account. This included both the 100m golds.
Su Bingtian defended the title that he won in Kobe two years ago brushing aside the challenge of Samuel Francis (Qatar), the lone Asian to go under 10s, with a time of 10.17s.
Wei Yongli zipped through the women’s final leaving reigning Asian Games champion Chisato Fukishima (Japan) wondering what hit her. Yongli won the race in 11.29s while Fukishima could manage only a disappointing 11.53s for the silver.
China’s third gold of the day only brought to fore the disappointment in the Indian camp which had hoped that Poovamma would emulate Chitra K. Soman’s 2007 feat at Amman (Jordan) and take the women’s 400m title.
But despite being the pre-event favourite, the 23-year-old Mangalore girl, unbeaten through six races including the three-leg Asian Grand Prix this season, seemed to be a bundle of nerves as she ran in her first major final. She was very much in the picture in the first half of the race but seemed to slip badly around the second bend.
Poovamma emerged into the final straight in fourth position and only a gusty last 100m helped her finish behind Zhao Yammin. She was well ahead of Taslakian Gretta (Lebanon), who running from an outside lane, ran a brilliant race to land the bronze.
Anu Mariam Jose was fourth after trying in vain to catch up with the Lebanese girl towards the finish.
“I am both happy and disappointed with the day’s result,” said Poovamma after the race before conceding that her calculations had gone awry at the bend. “This is my first medal at a major meet and therefore I am happy. But I am sad that I have left the country down by not winning the gold medal.”
The men’s 10,000m race saw the three Indians in the fray stay ahead of the pack through the initial phase before the Bahrainian duo, lurking just behind, took control. Ratiram and Kheta hung in bravely with their rivals through the next five rounds, before the eventual gold and silver medallists changed gears at the end of the 18th lap.
While they continued their onslaught against the clock, there seemed to be some distance developing between the two Indians, with Ratiram ahead of Kheta. Alemu Bekele assured himself the gold ahead of Bilisuma Shugi.
The other Indian who figured in a final was Sahana Kumari, who finished fourth in the women’s high jump, which also ended in a surprising 1-2 for Uzbekistan.