The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Saraswati leads India’s gold march

Busan, Oct. 10: The Indian athletes (read: ladies) are having a ball at the Busan Asiad Main Stadium. They scooped up three more gold medals Thursday to take their tally to six after four days of competition at the 14th Asian Games. Only China, with eight golds, stand taller than India.

Saraswati Saha made the most of Susanthika Jayasinghe’s late withdrawal to win the 200m in 23.28 seconds. Sunita Rani eclipsed the Games record as well as the national mark en route to victory in 1,500m in 4 minutes, 06.03 minutes. Neelam J. Singh did likewise, hurling the discus 64.55 metres.

K.M. Beenamol missed out on a second gold, getting outclassed by Damayanti Dharsha in the 400 final. The Sri Lankan took 51.13 seconds to run the distance, bettering Ma Yuqui’s meet record of 51.17. Beenamol clocked 52.04 to take silver while the bronze went to Kazakh Svetlana Bodritskaya (52.10).

It was at the warm-up area this morning, about half an hour before the 200m women’s final, that Susanthika pulled out of the race. She had sprained her right hamstring during Wednesday’s semi-final but still thought she could go for her second gold in three days.

While trying to accelerate in practice Thursday, the Sri Lankan superstar felt the pain and decided not to run.

That opened the doors for the Bengal sprinter and she sneaked in happily. Placed in lane 3 after recording the best time of the semi-finals Wednesday, Saraswati burst off the blocks and had a stutter in the middle before pulling past Chinese Ni Xiaoli and Kazakh Viktoriya Kovyreva. The Chinese girl clocked 23.34 and the Kazakh 23.48.

Not since P.T. Usha won the 200 in 1986 — one of her four golds of that Games — has an Indian bagged this event. “She shouldn’t sit on this achievement... she must continue training hard and focussing on athletics. I think she should give up 100 and concentrate on the 200 only,” was Usha’s advice for the 23-year-old Saraswati who came in a poor seventh in the 100m final two days ago.

Sunita, who didn’t feature in the first list of athletes, ran as if her life depended on this race. She started cautiously as fellow-Indian Madhuri Saxena set the pace. Just after completing the first lap, Sunita left the field behind and never looked back.

Only Kazakhstan’s Tatiana Borisova kept in touch with the Indian, but after two-and-a-half laps she had no hope of catching up with the Punjab Police DSP. Not letting up even as she entered the home stretch, Sunita came through 10 metres clear of the Kazakh. Japan’s Yoshiko Ichikawa beat Madhuri to the bronze medal.

Sunita’s time was better than Chinese Qu Yunxia’s previous best Games mark of 4:12.48. Her own national record stood at 4:08.35 till this day.

“I was just thinking of a medal, not any record,” said Sunita who won silver in the Bangkok Asian Games but couldn’t compete in the Sydney Olympics because of a groin injury. “I am happy and relieved to have overcome my injury problems and won this gold.”

Neelam converted her Bangkok bronze to gold here. Her second heave travelled 64.55 metres — better than her personal best of 63.02 as well as the Games mark of 63.56 achieved by Hou Xuomei in Hiroshima.

There were two Chinese in Thursday’s field too but they just couldn’t match the Indian’s effort. Aimin Song settled for silver (61.80) and Shuli Ma bronze (59.89). Harwant Kaur came fourth with 58.31.

“There were murmurs that I could only do well at home... I am happy to have proved those people wrong,” said the RCF (Kapurthala) employee.

India went medal-less in the 100 women’s hurdles as Anuradha Biswal finished fourth (13.46) behind two Chinese and a Japanese.

The men’s trio of K.P. Anil, Piyush Kumar, Joshua Clifford and Sanjay Ghosh qualified for the 4x100 final after finishing third in their heat clocking 39.71.

Poor Gulab Chand, who couldn't complete the 1,500m two days ago, was not allowed to run the 5,000m Thursday. It was learnt that he would be sent home by the earliest available fight.

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