India at Asiad: 'Magic' Johnson, women's relay team burn track; hockey flops

There was no stopping the gold rush from track-and-field as India exceeded all expectations but a heartbreak in the men's hockey semifinal took some sheen off India's medal haul.

Gold medallist Indian athletes, Sarita Gayakwad, Hima Das, Vismaya, Poovamma Raju celebrate after the women's 4x400m relay event at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta.   -  PTI

There was no stopping the gold rush from track-and-field as India exceeded all expectations for its best Asian Games performance since 1978.

But a heartbreak in the men's hockey semifinal took some sheen off the country’s sprint past the previous edition’s medal haul.

The seasoned Jinson Johnson and the women’s 4x400m relay team were the joint stars with their golden show on the final day of the track-and-field competition. India signed off with seven gold, 10 silver and two bronze medals.

In the inaugural edition in 1951 held in New Delhi, India had won more than 30 medals from athletics, including 10 gold. In 1982, India pocketed 20 medals in athletics but there were only four gold.

India finished third in athletics behind China (12, 12, 9) and Bahrain (12, 6, 7).

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In Indonesia, India surpassed its previous edition’s overall tally of 57 by making it 59 with two more days of competition left. The country also took its gold tally to 13, two more than 2014.

Johnson, who surprisingly lost the gold to compatriot Manjit Singh in the 800m, more than made up for that blip with a brilliant rally on Thursday.

Johnson clocked 3:44.72sec to claim the top honours ahead of Iran’s Amir Moradi, who turned in a timing of 3:45.62sec, his season’s best effort.

And then the 4x400m women’s relay team notched up a fifth successive gold to continue its remarkable dominance in the event.

The Indian quartet of Hima Das, M R Poovamma, Saritaben Gayakwad and Vismaya Velluva Koroth clocked 3:28.72sec to claim the gold.

The defending champion men’s team could not get the top position but pulled off a creditable silver with the quartet of Kunhu Muhammed, Dharun Ayyasamy, Muhammed Anas and Arokia Rajiv timing 3:01.85sec to finish behind Qatar, which won gold in an Asian record of 3:00.56sec.

Adding a bronze was veteran discus thrower Seema Punia. The 35-year-old cleared a six-year-best of 62.26m for a third-place finish. Punia won a gold in the 2014 edition.

Asian champion P U Chitra also won a bronze, in the women’s 1500m race. Chitra entered the race as Asian leader this season but had to settle for a bronze with a timing of 4:12.56 sec.

But losing the men’s hockey semifinal to Malaysia came as a massive blow for the country, which was not just aiming for a gold but also direct Olympic qualification through a top finish here.

The Malaysians handed India a heartbreaking 6-7 loss in sudden death after an exhausting shoot-off. India will play eight-time champion Pakistan in the bronze medal play-off. Pakistan lost 0-1 to Japan in the other semifinals.

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There was no end to the disappointments in sports like volleyball, sepaktakraw where Indians continued to falter and failed to find any wins.

In squash, the Indian women’s team lost the all-important match against Hong Kong 1-2 to finish second in Group B, resulting in a tougher semifinal opponent in defending champion Malaysia.

Senior players Dipika Pallikal and Joshna Chinappa lost their matches against Joey Chan and Annie Au, 1-3 and 0-3, respectively.

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In table tennis, Commonwealth Games gold medal-winning paddlers A Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra advanced to the pre-quarterfinals of the singles events. The two had cinched a historic mixed doubles bronze on Wednesday.