Gymnast Ashish Kumar opened a new chapter for India in the little followed sport by clinching the country's first ever medal, a bronze, in the Asian Games when he stood third in the men's floor exercise routine on Tuesday.
Kumar, who came to national limelight in last month's Commonwealth Games by winning a vault silver and bronze in floor, tallied 14.92 points to take the bronze in a bitterly fought contest in which China's Zhang Chenglong and Korea's Kim Soo Myun tied for the gold with identical 15.40 points.
"I am very happy because it is the first gymnastics medal in the history of Indian gymnastics (at the Asian Games)," said the Allahabad-based gymnast, whose performance is even more praiseworthy considering that the team's foreign coach Vladimir Chertkov deserted the squad before the commencement of the Games and returned to India.
Kumar said he did not have the time to practice for the tough event in which world class competition was in evidence with China, Korea and Japan in fray.
"It was very tough for me because I did not have much practice for the Asian Games. We have just had the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. And it is very tough with China and Korea (in fray)," said Kumar who began to take part in gymnastics in 1994.
"I started in 1994 when I was four years old. Now I am 19. It's a great experience. I won silver (on vault) and bronze (in floor) at the Commonwealth Games and now I have another bronze at the Asian Games," he said.
Team's national coach Ashok Mishra, who is with Kumar since January 2009 in a succession of camps to prepare the gymnasts for this year's CWG, said that the competition was very close and the gymnast did not feel the absence of Chertkov who was miffed at not being given permission to take part in the opening ceremony in non-ceremonial dress.
"It (Chertkov's leaving) has not made a difference. He trained under a foreign coach as a child. We have trained the gymnasts for almost two years in a succession of camps which has paid dividends," he said.
Among those who were pushed out of the medal bracket in the floor apparatus were China's Feng Zhe who finished with 14.90 points, Hishashi Mizutori of Japan (14.82), Yoo Won Chul (Korea, 14.27), who got a penalty of 0.3, Uzbek Masharipov Otabek (14.00) and Ryotaka Deguchi (Japan, 13.42).
Gold medal winner Zhong Chenglong is the world horizontal bar champion while the man who tied for the number one spot, Korean Kim Soo Myun, was the member of the 2008 Beijing Olympics bronze-winning team in floor event.