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Sania Mirza, Neelam strike it rich
- India still fourth despite bagging five more golds; Akbar Ali Mir claims silver in 200 backstroke

Hyderabad: Tennis sensation Sania Mirza and athlete Neelam J. Singh took centrestage with their gold-grabbing feats as India added five more gold medals to their kitty to retain the fourth position on the medals table after the sixth day at the Afro-Asian Games here on Thursday.

With just one more day for the inaugural edition of the Games to end, India held on to the fourth position with 12 gold, 13 silver and 27 bronze medals while Asian giants China continued to perch themselves atop the table with a tally of 22-10-4.

Japan managed to climb to the second position with 15-6-2, edging out South Africa to the third spot with 14-13-15.

Sania, who shot into fame after her junior Wimbledon triumph recently, kept her reputation intact to clinch the women’s singles tennis crown while Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna secured the gold in the men’s doubles event.

The seasoned Neelam grabbed the gold in women’s discus event while Shakti Singh also had his moment of glory by taking the honour in men’s shotput on a day which saw the hosts picking up eight medals.

The 16-year-old Sania, playing in her home city, kept herself in line for a couple of more golds by cruising into the final of the women’s doubles and mixed doubles finals.

Sania overcame a lethargic start to outclass compatriot Rushmi Chakravarthy with a 7-6, 6-3 scoreline and then teamed up with Bhupathi to romp into the final of the mixed doubles event.

Bhupathi and Bopanna did their bit to boost India’s gold medal haul by getting the better of compatriots Sunil Sipayea and Vinod Sridhar in the men’s doubles final as the Indians completely dominated the tennis arena.

Apart from the gold-winning efforts of Neelam and Shakti, the athletic contingent brought a silver through Sitaram (men’s 10,000m). Navpreet Singh also made it to the medals podium by securing bronze in the men’s shot put event.

The swimmers fetched one silver and two bronze medals on the concluding day of the swimming event, taking their tally to eight silver and 11 bronze medals.

Akbar Ali Mir was the star performer with a silver in the men’s 200m backstroke. Nisha Millet won a bronze in women’s 200m backstroke setting a new national record in the process while Shikha Tandon had to be content with bronze in 100m freestyle.

The hosts’ attempt to grab their first gold in the competition failed to take shape though Akbar Ali came close in the men’s 200m backstroke. But in the end, he settled for a silver, clocking 2:12.66.

“I had prepared hard for the competition and no doubt this is the biggest achievement of my career. I am quite happy with my showing in the tough competition,” said the Calcutta-based swimmer.

Shikha, who won a bronze medal in women’s 100m freestyle, missed the Olympic quota by a whisker, finishing just 0.25 seconds outside the qualification mark.

She has already booked a place for Athens in the 50m freestyle. Shikha, who started well surging ahead of others by the half-way mark, failed to maintain her lead till the end.

“I was really feeling tired. I very well knew till the 80m mark that I was ahead. But somehow I just got tired and finished third,” she said.

The hosts had some thing more to cheer as Nisha bettered a seven-year-old record by her bronze medal effort. She took the third spot in 2:27.40 which was 0.6 seconds faster than the previous one set in 1996.

India got the better off South Africa 5-4 via the tie-breaker to win the women’s hockey gold on Thursday.

It was a disappointing day at the shooting ranges with the Indians returning medal-less while the lifters had just one bronze to show with Nansita Devi being the winner in women’s 69kg category.

National Games gold medallist Nansita lived up to her reputation lifted a total 195 kg. She survived some anxious moments as Sanok Supasiri of Thailand gave a tough fight for the bronze and had to withdraw after an injury during the event enabling the 24-year old Indian to take the bronze with combined effort of 85 kg in snatch and 110 in jerk.

Sania, who had an easy semi-final against Philippines’ Czarina Arevalo on Wednesday, got her powerful forehands and backhands going well and played some delightful shots from close to the net, putting Rushmi under pressure.

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