Gold spot: 400m... a hurdle no more
Former sprint queen PT Usha's understudy, Tintu Luka — the 800m runner, had generated so much hype in the run-up to the athletics events at the Aoti Sports Centre that the entire Indian contingent was there cheering the 20-year-old the moment she took her designated position on the track.
A little over two minutes later, the spotlight had shifted to Kazakhstan's Margarita Matsko. Tintu was in tears, limping and puking all the way to the medical room. The 20-year-old had disappointed with her bronze and she was not willing to face the media.
But two other Indian athletes — 400m hurdlers Joseph Abraham and Ashwini Akkunji Chidananda — had taken it upon themselves to ensure that the spotlight never shifted from the Indians as they ensured a grand double in the men's and women's sections, respectively, to take India's gold tally in athletics to four and the overall tally to 10.
With one more day to go and a host of events in athletics, boxing — and of course men's and women's kabaddi — lined up, India will definitely surpass its 10-gold haul at the 2006 Doha Asian Games.
It were the athletes who provided the flourish before the boxers took over.
Twenty-nine-year-old Joseph Abraham, who suffered a debilitating thigh muscle injury in the lead-up to 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and was out of competition for almost a year, ran a cracker of a race, emerging winner in 49.96 sec, even as favourite Naohiro Kawakita was in a state of shock after finishing third behind Sharahili Bandar Yahya of Saudi Arabia.
In what was expected to be a straightforward race between Kawakita and countrymate Kenji Narisako, the two winners of the semifinals on Wednesday failed to deliver, while Joseph, who came up with the season's best time, was the leader from start to finish.
“This has given me the added boost to aim for the London Olympics. The injury is now history and I can look forward to London,” said the athlete, who started off as a long jumper and a sprinter in his initial years, but after he began idolizing American hurdler Angelo Taylor, shifted his focus on 400m hurdles. He was also part of the 4X400m relay team that won silver at the Doha Asiad.
"I tried out a new stride pattern for the first time at the 2009 Asian Championships at the same venue (Guangzhou) and came second with the time I clocked today. I had to alter my strides after I was disqualified for hurdle infringement at last year's World Championships," said the champion who is an Indian Railways employee and hails from Koruthodu in Kerala.
For Ashwini Akkunji, her long loping strides held her in good stead as she emerged an easy champ in women's 400m hurdles in a time of 56.15, which was also her personal best.
"I am tall, so I have long strides. I started running in Udipi village in Kerala, and it's only a month back that I started focusing on 400m hurdles," she said.
Two unexpected champions. Two unexpected gold. And India is moving up the medals chart. Indian athletes have finally arrived.
Women's 800m runner, Tintu Luka, looked good for gold till the home stretch, but could not come up with a late burst of energy in the last 70-80 metres, only to be passed by Kazakhstan's Matsko Margarita and Vietnam's Thanh Hang Truong.
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