Indian woman middle distance and distance runners provided two big upsets as the Asian Games athletics championships got off to an eventful start before a near-capacity crowd of nearly 75,000 at the Guangdong Olympic Stadium on Sunday (21).
Preeja Sreedharan and Kavita Raut took the 10,000m field by surprise with an excellent tactical race in which they allowed the Japanese Kaypko Fukushi and Hikari Yoshimoto, and Bahrain's Shitaye Eshete to dictate the early pace and then took over during the last two laps when the rest had surprisingly gone out of steam.
The World marathon champion of 2009, Bai Xue, quite clearly under-prepared for a sub-32-minute race, fell behind with over 2000 metres to go and eventually finished eighth in a season best 32:39.19.
Sreedharan, a 28-year-old Railway employee from the Southern Indian town of Palghat, won with a 31:50.47 national record while Raut, who had taken the silver here in this event in the last Asian championships and who had won bronze in the recent Commonwealth Games, claimed the silver, in 31:51.44, also in a personal best.
“We were confident right from the start," said Sreedharan. "Our coach (Nikolai Snesarev) had given us the confidence that we could get two medals in this race if we ran a normal race."
This was India’s first gold in this event that made its Asian Games entry in 1986.
Sudha Singh was the other Indian who surprised better-rated runners, Chinese Jin Yuan and Japanese Minori Hayakari, clocking a national Record of 9:55.67 in winning the 3000m Steeplechase being contested for the first time in the Games. The Chinese almost managed to beat her at the finish, but perhaps took the victory for granted too early.
Wang Hao, Li Ling take gold for China
It was not the kind of start that the Chinese would have wanted to launch their assault on track and field gold medals. The morning had started well, with the 2009 World Championships silver medallist, Wang Hao, winning the men’s 20km Race Walk gold, edging teammate Chu Yafei past the 16km mark, in a season best 1:20.50, a top-20 timing in the world season’s lists.
But another Chinese success came only in the women’s Shot Put, with Li Ling retaining her title with a personal best 19.94m to upstage favourite Gong Lijiao, who took silver at 19.67m. In their three previous meetings this season, the younger Gong Liajiao had beaten her rival quite comfortably. Today, at the most crucial period in the year for the Asians, she could not pull it off.
The waiting game that the Qataris and Bahrainis play in the distance events was once again played to perfection as Mahboob Ali Hasan of Bahrain took the men’s 5000m after a close battle with the Qataris.
Hasan’s decisive move came only at the beginning of the final lap. He started speeding away with James Kwalia in hot pursuit, followed by Felix Kibore, a World Championships finalist in 2007.
The most dramatic twist seemed to take shape when Kwalia made a fantastic bid to overtake Hasan with less than 50 metres to go. He almost managed it but in the end it was Hasan, as he had done in the Asian championships last year while bagging a double, who won in a season best 13:47.86.
In the absence of Japan's former Olympic champion Koji Murofushi, Dilshod Nazarov expectedly retained the men’s hammer throw gold, with a below-par 76.44m toss considering the fact that he joined the 80-metre club this season.
Iranian Kaveh Mousavi surprised Japanse Hiroaki Doi, with an effort of 68.90m. Doi, who had a season best 71.83m, managed only 68.72m.
The expected highlight on the second day's programme will be Lui Xiang's first appearance in the 110m Hurdles.
By an IAAF correspondent
Leading Results -
Men: 5000m: 1. Mahboob Ali Hasan (Brn) 13:47.86, 2. James Kwalia Kurui (Qat) 13:48.55, 3. Felix Kibore (Qat) 13:49.31.
Hammer: 1. Dilshod Nazarov (Tjk) 76.44m, 2. Kaveh Mousavi (Iri) 68.90, 3. Hiroaki Doi (Jpn) 68.72.
20km Race Walk: 1. Wang Hao (Chn) 1:20:50, 2. Chu Yafei (Chn) 1:21:57, 3. Kim Hyunsub (Kor) 1:22:47.
Women: 10,000m: 1. Preeja Sreedharan (Ind) 31:50.47, 2. Kavita Raut (Ind) 31:51.44, 3. Shitaye Eshete (Brn) 31:53.27.
3000m steeplechase: 1. Sudha Singh (Ind) 9:55.67, 2. Jin Yuan (Chn) 9:55.71, 3. Minori Hayakari (Jpn) 10:01.25.
Shot put: 1. Li Ling (Chn) 19.94m, 2. Gong Lijiao (Chn) 19.67, 3. Lee Mi Young (Kor) 17.51.
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