Kidambi Srikanth became the second male shuttler in India’s Olympic history to reach the men’s singles quarterfinals when he overcame higher ranked Danish rival Jan O Jorgensen in straight games in the Rio Games badminton.
The 21-19 21-19 win for Srikanth, ranked 11th in the world, lifted the sagging spirits of India on the 10th day of competitions as he became the second shuttler after Parupalli Kashyap in the London Games four years ago to reach the last eight in men’s singles.
However, India’s slim hopes of a medal in the women’s 3000m steeplechse disappeared when Lalita Babar, the first track athlete to qualify for an Olympic final in 32 years, could finish only 10th in 9 minutes, 22.74 seconds.
She had set a new national mark of 9:19.76s when she qualified for the final two days ago, but could not improve on it in a race won with a searing run to the gold by Bahrain’s diminutive Kenya-born Asian Games champion Ruth Jebet in 8:59.75s.
Despite her 10th place finish, Babar’s effort was still the best performance by an Indian in a track event after after PT Usha’s fourth-place finish in the 400m hurdles in 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
The 27-year-old from the drought-prone Satara district in Maharashtra had become the second Indian woman after Usha in 1984 Los Angeles to qualify for a final at a track event at quadrennial extravaganza.
2015 World Championships gold winner Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkomoi of Kenya took the silver in 9:07.12s while American Emma Coburn won the bronze in 9:07.63s.
Two other athletes – Srabani Nanda, in women’s 200m, and triple jumper Renjith Maheshwary – made tame exits in the first round while wrestler Ravinder Khatri lost his opening round fight against Hungary’s Viktor Lorincz in the greco roman 85kg class.
The wiry Srikanth’s superb display against world no. 5 Jorgensen, a day after big medal hope and London Olympics bronze winner Saina Nehwal’s shock exit, kept India’s hopes alive in badminton.
He now has a huge task on hand in the quarter-finals tomorrow where he faces reigning champion Lin Dan although he can take inspiration from his sensational win over the Chinese two-time Olympic champion two years ago in the China Open final.
Coming into the match with a 1-2 head-to-head record, the 23-year-old from Guntur in Andhra Pradesh dished out an aggressive performance to defeat Jorgensen in a 42-minute battle to keep himself in contention.
But away from the badminton court, setbacks continued for India.
Maheswary, who had qualified for the Games by setting a national mark of 17.30 metres last month in Bengaluru, could do only a modest 16.13 metres to finish a distant 30th overall out of 48 competitors. His other two jumps were less than 16 metres.
The 30-year-old Kerala athlete had made the Olympics cut on the last day of qualification period on July 11 at the hurriedly arranged Indian Grand Prix. The triple jumper thus lived up to his poor reputation of choking in major events.
Srabani came sixth in heat five of the women’s 200m sprint in 23.58 seconds that gave her athe 55th rank out of 72 competitors in the preliminaries. Her personal best is 23.07s
Both these athletes were knocked out.