Sudha Singh, India’s Guangzhou Asian Games gold-medal winner in the women’s 3,000-metre steeplechase, is in her early 30s now. It’s been seven years since she won the event at the Asiad in China. At the Rio Olympics a year ago, she finished 30th overall. Her teammate Lalita Babar was the rare bright spot in India’s track and field contingent finishing a commendable 10th in the steeplechase. Sudha, like most of the contingent, had returned dejected. Even as she was dealing with the disappointment of failing to perform to her potential at the Olympics, she was struck by a bout of swine flu. The doctors predicted that it would take her at least a couple of months before she could start training.
On the penultimate day of the 22nd Asian Athletics Championships at the Kalinga Stadium, less than a year after the poor show at Rio, Sudha lit up the arena with a dominant performance to win gold. She took an early lead in the race and only extended it further as the women’s 3,000-metre steeplechase final turned a Sudha show. With athletes shifting allegiance from African nations to oil-rich Gulf countries, this event is highly competitive at the Asian level.
The Kenyan Ruth Jebet, who runs for Bahrain has made this event her own by winning the Asian Games and the Olympic titles. But with Bahrain pulling out of this edition of the Asian Championships, the field was open and Sudha had an opportunity to seal a World Championship berth by virtue of being a continental champion. She took the gold with a timing of 9:59.47, which is over three seconds better than her personal best this season — a sign that Sudha is slowly hitting her stride. To put her timing in perspective, it is still only the ninth best in Asian this season but Sudha, in the past has shown the ability to bounce back when she has been written off.
“This is my first international meet for the Rio Olympics. My aim was to win gold and secure a world championships berth. I have fulfilled that objective. For me to run here and win has been an achievement because I had swine flu last year and took me a long while to recover. For an athlete to come back to from an illness takes time and I feel I am improving,” Sudha said.
The silver was won by Hyo Gyong of Korea (10:13.94) while Nana Sato won bronze (10:18.11). Sudha will have to keep improving if she is to stay in contention for a medal next year, one in which both the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games are being held. Since the high at Guangzhou, Sudha has had to compete domestically with Lalita and in recent years the latter has emerged as the stronger of the two. Sudha, though beliefs, she can still mount a challenge at the bigger meets. “It is all about belief and remaining injury free. Today after a while I am feeling like I am slowly getting back to my best. But I have a long way to go.”
Swapna Burman, the heptathlete, cleared 1.86 metres in the high jump in the seven-discipline competition. She topped the high jump and leads at the end of Day One with three events to be held on Sunday. As she cleared 1.84 metres, during the morning session, she had the crowd backing her because at this height she would have matched the gold medal winner in the women’s high jump. Nadiya Dusanova of Uzbekistan had finished first in the women’s high jump with 1.84m. The second place was taken by Yeung Man Wai of Hong Kong (1.80), while China’s Wang Xueyi took bronze (1.80). Burman sensing that the fans were backing her even cleared 1.86 in her third attempt. She then aimed for 1.89 but could not clear the height.
Tintu Luka in 800m final
Defending 800m champion Tintu Luka led the charge as almost all the Indians who competed in the third-morning session qualified for the final rounds at the 22nd Asian Athletics Championships on Saturday. Luka overcame a mild stutter on the back straight in the second lap to win the second heat in 2:6.66 seconds and emerge the fastest qualifier.
Her team-mates Lili Das (2:07.24) and Archana Adhav (2:09.42) also made it to the half-mile final without much trouble. In men’s 800m, Jinson Johnson won the opening heat in 1:50.48 to be among the favourites in the medal race while Vishwambar Kolekar won the third heat to also make it to the final. India’s US-based Siddhanth Thingalaya qualified as one of the two fastest losers in men’s 110m hurdles, clocking 13.72 seconds to finish third in the second heat. Ankit Sharma (7.42m), S Samsheer (7.42m) and Siddharth Mohan Naik (7.39m) made it to the final of men’s long jump.
with PTI inputs