Small-town talent give Indian athletics a high in 2010

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NEW DELHI: New stars emerged on the horizon as Indian track and field athletes brought unprecedented success to the country with impressive performances in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games in a record-breaking 2010.

The year saw Indian athletes bagging a record 12 medals, including two gold, in the Commonwealth Games here while five of the 14 yellow medals at the Asian Games were bagged by country’s athletes in Guangzhou.

Krishna Poonia entered her name into India’s athletics folklore by becoming the first woman to win an individual gold in the Commonwealth Games which was further made memorable when the country swept the shot-put event by bagging all the medals.

India’s 12 medals in CWG’s athletics competition were two more than the number it won in all the earlier editions.

One month later in Guangzhou, the athletes bagged five gold, two silver and five bronze with new track sensation Ashwini Akkunji and Joseph Abraham clinching a rare gold double by winning men’s and women’s 400m hurdles in the Asian Games.

Ashwini, born in an agricultural family in a nondescript village of Siddapura in Karnataka, came out of nowhere to win two gold (another in 400m relay race). She had switched to 400m hurdles only in May this year as her coaches thought her long strides would suit hurdles.

Another athlete from rural Kerala, Preeja Sreedharan won a gold in 10,000m and a silver in 5,000m in Guangzhou. She lost her father when she was very young and her mother and brother worked as domestic help and carpenter respectively to run the family of four.

Rae Bareily girl Sudha Singh, who won a gold in women’s 3,000m steeplechase in the Asian Games, also had to struggle for want of financial support in her early career.

After bringing laurels for the country, she also had to face the humiliation of being snubbed by the sports minister of Uttar Pradesh at a marathon race flag-off ceremony in Lucknow.

Commonwealth Games, in fact, was also all about athletes from modest backgrounds stealing the limelight.

Kavita Raut, who hails from a little known Sabpadda village in Nashik district of Maharashtra, won a surprise bronze in 10,000m race and later said that she took to athletics as she could do it with barefoot.

A farmer’s son from a village near Patiala in Punjab, Harminder Singh surprised everybody by bagging a bronze in men’s 20km walk race. Another athlete from a poor family in Kerala, M A Prajusha, who even struggled to buy running shoes with spikes, won a silver in women’s long jump.

India entered their highest number of athletes — 110 — in the CWG but it was Poonia who created history by breaking India’s 52-year-old Games gold medal jinx by winning the yellow metal in women’s discus throw. Harwant Kaur and Seema Antil bagged silver and bronze respectively.

India had not bagged an athletics gold since ‘Flying Sikh’ Milkha Singh won men’s 440 yards race in the 1958 edition in Cardiff, Wales.

The 50,000 strong crowd at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium cheered wildly when the women’s 4X400m relay team of Manjeet Kaur, Sini Jose, Ashwini Akkunji and Mandeep Kaur added another gold in a memorable race, beating strong teams likes Nigeria and England.

Woman long jumper Malliakkal Prajusha was pipped to the post by Canadian Alice Falaiya who won the event in the last jump, beating the Indian for gold by three centimetres.

United States-based Vikas Gowda could not produce his season’s best but fetched a silver for the country. Renjith Maheswary broke his own triple jump national record by clearing 17.07m to win bronze before javelin thrower Kashinath Naik added another bronze.

The men’s quartet of Rahamatulla Molla, Krishnakumar Rane, Shammer Mon and Mohd Abdul Qureshi won a bronze with a new national record timing of 38.89secs, the first time to run sub-38secs.

The women’s 4x100m relay team of Geetha Satti, Srabani Nanda, P K Priya and H M Jyothi finished third in a photo finish with a timing of 45.25secs, just one-hundredth of a second behind second-placed Ghana (45.24secs).

Tintu Luka, the protégé of the legendary P T Usha, however, disappointed by finishing sixth in 2:01.25, well below her personal and season’s best of 1:59.17. She won a bronze in the Asian Games.

In the Asian Games, India won five gold, two silver and four bronze medals, one of the best performances ever though below the 2002 Busan tally of 7-6-5 (17).

The women’s 4x400m relay quartet of Manjeet Kaur, Sini Jose, Ashwini Akkunji and Mandeep Kaur defended the gold they had won in 2006 Asian Games in Doha.

Kavita Raut, who won a bronze in the 10,000m race in the CWG, bagged two bronze — one each in 5,000 and 10,000m. Krishna Poonia bagged a bronze in discus throw while G Pramila was also among the medals with a bronze in heptathlon.

Triple jumper Renjith Maheswary was leading the field till three competitors got past him in the final attempt.

The Indian men’s 4x100m relay squad of Mohamed Abdul Najeeb, Shameer Mon, M Rahamatulla and Suresh Sathya missed the bronze by 1/100th of a second and ended fourth in photo finish behind Thailand.

That luckily saved the country from dope shame as NADA had informed the Athletics Federation of India that Sathya Suresh’s urine sample, taken just before the Asian Games, was found positive for nandrolone.

In fact, amid the inspiring stories of athletes from modest backgrounds bringing laurels to the country, the year had its share of low points.

Drug cheats once again tarnished the image of the country with dope flunks.

20km race walker Rani Yadav flunked a dope test for a banned steroid in the Commonwealth Games though she finished sixth while 200m and 4x100m relay runner Sathya Suresh tested positive for nandrolone in the NADA test.

AFI and Sathya later claimed that they came to know of the dope flunk only after the Asian Games but had the relay team finished at the podium, the athletes would have been tested in Guangzhou and the country could have faced a dope shame.

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This post was submitted by Mudit Agrawal.

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