It's Trecia Roberts all the way

Kazakhstan's Gennadiy Chernovol (right) kicks past Thailand's Sittichai Suwornprateep in the men's 100m. This was Genaddiy's fourth win of the series. — Pic. AP-Kazakhstan's Gennadiy Chernovol (right) kicks past Thailand's Sittichai Suwornprateep in the men's 100m. This was Genaddiy's fourth win of the series. — Pic. AP

IT was indeed a fitting finale as the second Asian Grand Prix athletics series came to a close amid a stupendous performance by Thailand's Trecia Roberts in the women's high hurdles.

IT was indeed a fitting finale as the second Asian Grand Prix athletics series came to a close amid a stupendous performance by Thailand's Trecia Roberts in the women's high hurdles. The Indians, who had failed to collect a gold through the first three legs of the competition, also signed off by scrubbing off the aberration winning the women's 400m relay though the event had just three entries.

But, it was Trecia Roberts all the way as the series, which was in danger of cancellation at one stage due to the fears over SARS, concluded an undoubted second year of success. It's triumph was no better represented than the fashion technology student's easy win and her world class show which left behind doubts cast on the series itself due to the absence of the top Asian athletes from China and Japan.

Sriyani Kulawansa was once again hot on the heels of Roberts at least through the first three hurdles. But as the Thai changed gears and hit a perfect rhythm from the fourth, there was little challenge worth the mention for Roberts who finally hit the tape in an impressive 12.94s, dipping two-hundredths of a second off the qualifying mark for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Soma Biswas was third in 14.14 as Roberts with her remarkable run also strode to a four wins out of four, having triumphed earlier in the Hyderabad, Colombo and Bangkok legs.

Sharing Roberts' limelight as the only other female athlete make a clean sweep of wins in the series was Du Xianhui of Singapore in the shot put.

Though her distance was below par (17.80m) compared to the 18.38m, 18.07m and 18.02 that she had achieved through the first three legs, the Singaporean's win was enough to serve notice of her world class potential once again. In any case, Xianhui was still way ahead of her rivals — team-mate Zhang Guirong (17.35m) and Kazakhstan's Iolanta Ulyeva (16.68m).

Yelena Kashcheyeva was also on track for a perfect four before she arrived in Manila. But unfortunately, the long jumper found the going too tough as she lost to Lerma Elmira Gabito of the host country. The home favourite's victory was a total upset coming as it did with a personal best of 6.48m, while Kashcheyeva managed only 6.24m for the third spot, behind Thailand's Wacharee Rittiwat (6.30m).

Though Susanthika Jayasinghe was no longer in contention for a clean sweep, having been beaten in the third leg, all eyes were on her as she took off in brilliant fashion and won the 100m in 11.32s, ahead of Uzbekistan's Lyubov Perepelova (11.56s) and Thailand's Orranuch Klomdee (11.58s). In another closely-watched race, Jayasinghe's team-mate Damayanthi Darsha also stamped her class with a good one-second win over Kazakhstan's Svetlana Bodritskaya in the 400m, while Zamira Amirova (Uzbekistan) proved that her 800m win over Tatyana Roslanova in Bangkok was no fluke.

The women's 400m relay had just three teams in the fray and it was the misfortune of Trecia Roberts suffering a muscle cramp when she anchored the Thai side — which was leading until then — which led to the lone Indian gold in the series. The Indian foursome finished ahead of Philippines clocking 47.10s. The Thai coach, Supanas Ariyamoingkol, was naturally upset: "Juthamart Thavorncharoen, Orannuch Klomdee and Supavadee Klaopluek combined very well to set the pace for an easy win, when Trecia went down with cramps. That's athletics, you can beat your opponents but injuries can beat you."

There was no such hiccup for Kazakhstan's Gennadiy Chernovol who won the 100m in 10.31s for his fourth win in the series. The other male athletes who made a perfect sweep of their respective events were Saudi Arabians Mohammed Al-Salhi in the 800m (1:49.22) and Mohammed Al-Khuwaildi in the long jump (7.80m), Thailand's Narongdech Janjai in the 110m hurdles (14.03s), Iran's Abbas Samimi in the discus (60.02m) and Sergey Voynov of Uzbekistan in the javelin (77.23).

Yet, it was not smooth sailing for some of them. Especially, Al-Salhi who had to fend off a determined challenge from Kazakhstan's Mikhail Kolganov in the 800m before finally prevailing in a photo-finish — with both athletes clocking 1:49.22.

The meet also saw the return of Rohan Pradeep Kumara to the top of the podium as he won the 400m at the expense of team-mates Prasanna Amarasekera and Sugath Tilakeratne.

Summing up the successful series, Maurice Nicholas, the secretary-treasurer of the AAAA, said, ``At first, there was talk of cancelling the series this year. Fortunately, we decided to go ahead. Despite the absence of some top athletes, we have seen some notable performances from a number of up and coming athletes. This augurs well for the future of athletics in Asia.''

The results:

Men: 100m: 1. Gennadiy Chernovol (Kaz), 10.31s, 2. Sittichai Suwornprateep (Tha), 10.39s, 3. Sanjay Ghosh (Ind), 10.48s. 400m: 1. Rohan Pradeep Kumara (SL), 46.61s, 2. Prasanna Amarasekara (SL), 46.81, 3. Sugath Tilakeratne (SL), 47.12s. 800m: 1. Mohammed Al-Salhi (KSA), 1:49.22, 2. Mikhail Kolganov (Kaz), 1:49.22, 3. John Lozada (Phi), 1:49.71. 110m hurdles: 1. Narongdech Janjai (Tha), 14.03s, 2. Supan Wongsriphurk (Tha), 14.11s, 3. Mohammed Faiz Mohammed (Mas), 14.15s. Long jump: 1. Mohammed Al-Khuwaildi (KSA), 7.80m, 2. Ahmed Al-Dossary (KSA), 7.59m, 3. Maha Singh (Ind), 7.52m. Discus: 1. Abbas Samimi (Irn), 60.02m, 2. Anil Kumar (Ind), 58.88m, 3. Sultan Al-Dawodi (KSA), 57.83m. Javelin: 1. Sergey Voynov (Uzb), 77.23m, 2. Jagdish Bishnoi (Ind), 68.35m, 3. Pradeep Nishantha (SL), 67.29m. 4 x 100m relay: 1. Thailand, 39.88s, 2. Philippines, 40.77s, 3. India, 41.30s.

Women: 100m: 1. Susanthika Jayasinghe (SL), 11.32s, 2. Lyubov Perepelova (Uzb), 11.56s, 3. Oranuch Klomdee (Tha), 11.58s. 400m: 1. Damayanthi Darsha (SL), 52.12s, 2. Tatyana Bodritskaya (Kaz), 53.12s, 3. Saowalee Keawchuay (Tha), 54.61s. 800m: 1. Zamira Amirova (Uzb), 2:04.13, 2. Tatyana Roslanova (Kaz), 2:04.72, 3. Tatyana Borisova (Kgz), 2:05.73. 100m hurdles: 1. Trecia Roberts (Tha), 12.94s, 2. Sriyani Kulawansa (Sri), 13.33s, 3. Soma Biswas (Ind), 14.15s. Long jump: 1. Lerma Elmira Gabito (Phi), 6.48m, 2. Wacharee Rittiwat (Tha), 6.30m, 3. Yelena Kashcheyeva (Kaz), 6.24m. Shot put: 1. Du Xianhui (Sin), 17.80m, 2. Zhang Guirong (Sin), 17.35m, 3. Jonata Ulyeva (Kaz), 16.68m. 4 x 100m relay: 1. India, 47.10s, 2. Philippines, 47.90s.