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Asian Athletics Championships: Sanjivani Jadhav picks up bronze; India miss out on relay gold due to faulty baton exchanges

An eight-lane athletic track can be extremely lonesome. Especially for a group of seven female athletes lining up to run the 25-lap 10,000m, the last event of the third day at the Asian Athletic Championships, virtually in front of an empty stadium. The first four laps had them in a group and then the split as each athlete ran in a microcosm of their own; in a little world where nothing mattered except for timing and the tactical nuances of pace, kick and finish – Japan’s Hitomi Niya and Bahrain’s Shitaye Habtebegrel leading and running together for 24 laps. India’s Sanjivani Jadhav was in the group for almost six laps before sliding back, content in running her own pace and despite being lapped once by Hitomi and Shitaye still picked up a bronze in a personal best time of 32:44.96.

 Asian Athletics Championships: Sanjivani Jadhav picks up bronze; India miss out on relay gold due to faulty baton exchanges

Sanjivani Jadhav poses after the race. Twitter: @afiindia

It’s a myth that a packed stadium with fans egging on their favourite leads to medals and records. At the Khalifa, not even a murmur broke the silence; if at all, a shout from a coach or a group of athletes beat back the lull somewhat. Through all that Hitomi and Shitaye plodded on, the Bahranian stuck like a limpet to the Japanese. With 15 laps to go, Jadhav had dropped back almost 100 metres. In effect, the race was over as far as the bronze medal was concerned, it was Jadhav’s. The battle was on for gold and silver. Yet, one had the feeling that Shitaye would make the move at her own convenience.

Long distance running, especially on a track inside the stadium is slightly different in its contours from the marathon. The mind feeds off elements like the clock, the laps slowly disintegrating the mind and body through the 25-lap journey. Those capable of keeping it together then see through the haze of tiring muscles, faltering mind, and a body screaming for fresh oxygen. In the last lap, Shitaye moved ahead slowly, almost tip-toe, as if she didn’t want to break the monk-like intensity and momentum of Hitomi’s consistent pace. Once ten metres ahead of the Japanese, the Bahranian kicked off, sprinting away as someone had flipped on the power switch. Shitaye finished in 31:15.62, a new championship record. Hitomi stopped the clock at 31: 22.63, her season’s best. Except for one runner, six had personal and season’s best timings.

Jadhav's bronze was only the third medal of the day for India – earlier Swapna Barman won the silver in the heptathlon with 5993 points and then the Indian mixed 4x400 relay team picked up a silver when gold looked imminent. In fact, in both the relays faulty baton exchanges were the culprit. In the end, on the third day, India are placed fourth in the medal standings with 2 gold, 5 silver and 6 bronze medals. Injuries and some below-par performances have killed off medal chances. Jinson Johnson who did not finish the 800m run on Monday didn’t turn up for 1500 where he is the reigning Asian Games gold medallist. A calf injury kept him out.

Hope persists in the form of Saroj Ajay Kumar, the reigning 1500m Asian champion. In Heat 2 of 1500m race, Saroj was fourth and battling away to remain in the fray. Musulman Dzholomanov of Krygstan had taken a 40-metre lead from the start till Qatar’s Musaab Ali started reeling Musulman in. With the pace increasing, Saroj moved up, passing three runners one after the other. The increased pace helped the Indian as he fought to the front before easing off to finish second in 3:49.20, the second fastest time in the heats. Saroj’s personal best is 3:41.93. Anywhere close to that mark and Saroj could be holding gold or silver.

There was an outside chance for Parul Chaudhary, the bronze medallist in the 5000m to pick up a second medal in the 3000m steeplechase. With two laps to go in the race, Parul had fallen to the sixth spot. Bahrain’s Mutile Yavi and Tigest Mekonen had done the front running after both the North Koreans and the Japanese had exhausted themselves and fallen to the back of the group. Mutile, running beautifully and effortlessly clocked a season’s best with 9:46.18 as China’s Xu in a late charge took silver with Mekonen taking home the bronze. Parul, however, clocked a personal best time of 10:03.43 to finish 5th.

In the 4x100m relay, everything was going to script and it seemed India would get a medal with Dutee Chand running anchor. Archana Suseentra had a good opening run with Revathi in third spot when she gave it to Ranga Kunnath who kept up the pace but a slipshod baton exchange where Dutee had to turn around to take the baton, ate away a hundredth of a second. Dutee did try and even got past the Thai runner but beating Naser Salwa was tough at that stage. In the mixed 4x400m relay, Muhammad Anas ran the opening lap and came in second when giving it to Poovamma who in a flash was in the lead, maintained it when giving it to Vismaya who was up against Naser Salwa but the Indian girl went shoulder to shoulder before a slight hesitation in the baton exchange with Rajiv Arokia gave inches away to Bahrain’s Abbas Abu Baker who stormed through to the gold with India taking silver.

Dutee would have shrugged off the disappointment of finishing fifth in the 100m with a win in Heat 3 of the 200m race. Even though she has the third fastest time in the heats, the field is extremely tough. It’s also not Dutee’s favourite event. The main concern would be the recovery for the Indian sprinter, more mentally than physically. After breaking the national record twice in the 100m over two days and then not finishing on the podium can be a soul-killer. It would also point to Dutee’s inner strength if she can battle back to claim a spot on the podium as she did at the 2018 Asian Games.

Out of the eight that would start the women’s 200m final, five ran in the 2018 Asian Games final too – Edidiong Odiong (gold), Dutee Chand (silver), Nigina Sharipova (4th), Olga Safronova (5th) and Lingwei Kong (6th). The additions are Salwa Naser and Manqi GE.

In the present circumstances, even though Dutee won a silver in the 2018 Asian Games 200m and Ajay Kumar Saroj is the 1500m reigning Asian Champion, a podium finish would be an apt final chapter for India’s Asian Championship challenge; a gold for both would, however, be a seismic upset.

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Updated Date: Apr 24, 2019 11:34:54 IST