Doha: In the end, all that training, ambition, hours of obsessing about timings, numbers and distances, wraps itself around that one fundamental truth in sport – the will to win. In the Indian camp, on the second day of the 23rd Asian Athletics Championships, nobody exemplified it more than Gomathi Marimuthu who ran a personal best in the 800m for a gold; Tejinder Pal Singh Toor, a silver in the last edition, improved it to a shot put gold; Shivpal Singh bagged a javelin silver with a personal best while Jabir Madari and Saritaben Gayakwad finishing with a bronze each in the 400m hurdles. Madari running a personal best of 49.13 to win World Championships qualification. India’s medal tally after two days stands at 2 gold, 3 silver and 5 bronze.
Gomathi had kept herself in the group of four led by China’s Chunyu Wang, Kazakhstan’s Margarita Mukasheva and Sri Lanka’s Gayanthika. The first lap was a struggle, five runners jostling for space. It was here that Gomathi didn’t yield and neither did she take up the lead position. “I was trying to remain in the field and keep going till the last 100 metres,” she said after the race. Gomathi was running against proven champions – Chunyu Wang is the reigning Asian Games champion with a personal best of 1:59.93. Kazakhstan’s Margarita Mukasheva has won the 2010 edition, 2014 Asian Games gold with a silver at the last edition. They knew what to do on the bend and in the last 50 metres.
Gomathi only wanted to be on the podium. So, when she looked down the stretch of the last 50 metres and found herself still in the lead pack, she decided to give her all. “I didn’t come in with too much expectation. So, I went for it,” she said. Both the Chinese and Kazakh were in for a surprise as Gomathi came in from the outside and with just five metres left went past Wang to clinch the gold. It was an exhilarating run. Two champions had been vanquished. “It was tough, but I realised that I was feeling strong so went for it,” said Gomathi. Her first reaction after winning the gold was to somehow call her mother.
Meanwhile, Shivpal Singh is his own man. It would be just too simplistic to analyse and conclude that upcoming javelin throwers are a by-product of Neeraj Chopra’s fame and fortune-hunting with a spear. Yes, Chopra has taken javelin to new heights making Indian track and field fans believe there is an Olympic medal around the corner. To have two javelin throwers hunt that Olympic or World Championship medal down, the better for India. Shivpal’s first throw of 80.89 set the field. Chao-Tsun had disqualified while China’s Liu Qizhen threw 80.19. It was the second throw that decided the story at the Khalifa. Chao-Tsun threw 86.72. Shivpal sent it flying and registered 86.23. That was massive. It was a personal best. In the next four throws, Shivpal managed a best of 81.39 with Chao-Tsun throwing just once and passing off the other attempts.
Chopra’s championship record set in 2017 at Bhubaneswar now belonged to the Chinese Taipei thrower with 86.72. For Shivpal, the silver would give him a massive boost, but the joy was in clinching the World Championships slot at the same venue. “My main aim was to do my best and improve on my personal best,” said Shivpal. On being asked whether Chopra is an influence in him picking up the javelin, Shivpal smiled and said, “Of course, we all look up to him, but my family is into javelin including my brother. So, the inspiration is the family.” He diplomatically dodged the question on whether the competition between him and Chopra will intensify with his Asian Championship medal – “I think it will benefit both and India.”
On the other hand, Tajinder Pal Singh Toor, silver medallist at the 2017 Asian Championship, went one better picking up a shot-put gold. It was the first throw that decided the championship when Toor threw 20.22. Wu Jiaxiang came close with a 20.03 on his 3rd throw but never threatened. None of the others touched 20m.
Another heart-warming performance came from Madari in the 400m hurdles. It was in the last 50 metres that he made up and in that killing pace, he not only picked up the bronze but clinched a World Championship spot with a 49.13, his personal best. “I knew I could make it to the podium,” he said later. “There was a slight panic at the 300M mark when I realised that the race might slip away as the Qatar runner was taking a substantial lead. It was then that I pushed when the other Qatar runner started tiring. I am happy that I qualified for the World Championship.”
There was a slew of disappointments. None more than Jinson Johnson in the 800m and Dutee Chand in the 100m. Dutee had promised much, breaking the national record of 11.29 twice in two days with runs of 11.28 and 11.26 in the semi-finals. In fact, the final was a straight face-off between Olga Safronova, China’s Liang Xiaojing and Dutee Chand. Olga had an 11.21 in the semis with Liang and Dutee running 11.26.
It wasn’t a great start for Dutee who normally explodes off the blocks as the first two rounds showed. Yet, at the 40-50m mark, they were bunched together – Olga, Liang and Dutee. All three with reaction times of 0.145, 0.140 and 0.147. So, the slow start in a way had been negated. It was in the region of 60-70m that Dutee lost the race and even a podium finish which seemed granted after the semi-final. The legs just gave away. While Olga powered through with 11.17 and Liang following in 11.28 and Yongli in 11.37, Dutee faded away into 5th spot with an extremely slow 11.44. Dutee’s finish and power in the last 30 metres was missing.
There were no explanations as to what went wrong as her coach Nagpuri Ramesh stood in the upper tier of the stadium shocked and perplexed. “I don’t know what went wrong,” he said. Ramesh pointed to the 50m mark indicating that something went wrong from that point onwards. On the same scale was Jinson Johnson’s failure. With a lap boxed in with the lead runners, Jinson pulled up 600m into the race. It was surprising because he had looked very good in the semi-finals and even the first lap didn’t give any hint as to what went wrong. Similarly, in the men’s 400M final with Muhammad Anas and Rajiv Arokia in the mix, one expected a medal. Anas couldn’t pull it off finishing 7th in 46.10 while Arokia finished 4th in 45.37, the consolation is that it was his personal best.