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India revels in athletics breakthroughs

The Indian contingent came into the Commonwealth Games with little athletics' pedigree, but leaves with heads held high after some breakthrough performances. The country has always excelled in sports like shooting, field hockey and wrestling, but can now add track and field to its resume, even if the level of competition was diminished with some big names pulling out.

india Updated: Oct 13, 2010 16:44 IST

The Indian contingent came into the Commonwealth Games with little athletics' pedigree, but leaves with heads held high after some breakthrough performances. The country has always excelled in sports like shooting, field hockey and wrestling, but can now add track and field to its resume, even if the level of competition was diminished with some big names pulling out.

They won 12 medals in total at the Jawarhalal Nehru Stadium, with the money the government pumped in to improve their prospects paying handsome dividends.

The highlight came when Krishna Poonia won India's first Commonwealth Games athletics gold in 52 years by leading a stunning host nation clean sweep in the women's discus. Poonia threw 61.51 metres to share an historic day with second-placed teammate Harwant Kaur and third-placed Seema Antil, collecting only the country's second gold medal ever. The first was won by Milkha Singh in the 440 yards in Cardiff in 1958.

As memorable was the victory by their 4x400m relay team on the final day of action to hand the country its first-ever track gold medal by Indian women. Elsewhere, Vikas Gowda and Prajusha Maliakkal won silver in the men's discus and women's long jump respectively. Indian triple jumper Renjith Maheswary, who won bronze, summed up the mood when he said: "I think it is a new beginning in Indian athletics."

Organising committee secretary general Lalit Bhanot said it was the payback from government money invested in the sport to ensure the hosts did well at the blue-riband event. "The government sanctioned a lot of money for Indian athletes that allowed them to get international exposure, to train in better facilities and to benefit from foreign coaches," he said.

Bhanot added that he expected the support to continue with the London Olympics less than two years away. "The support should continue given the performances they showed," he said.

Organising committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi said the legacy the Games would leave for India was a greater interest in sports like athletics in a country where cricket dominates. "The legacy for us is Olympic sports," he said.

"One of the main things of having a big event like the Commonwealth Games is to ensure that we create a lot of new icons and these icons will lead the youth of India towards the global sports." The next challenge for India's track and field athletes is the Asian Gams in Guangzhou next month, where they will come face to face with fellow Asian superpower China.