Still plenty of ground to cover

It was a disappointing show by India, which failed to win even a single medal at the World Championships. However, on the positive side was the Indian athletes’ keenness to experiment which saw a few of them break new ground. By Stan Rayan.

For a few minutes the chatter was all about Lalita Babar at the Bird’s Nest, as the athlete from Maharashtra, daughter of a farmer from Satara, led the field in the 3000m steeplechase at the 15th IAAF World Championships in Beijing. Only a couple of years ago, Babar appeared to be a shattered lady with a series of disappointments in distance events, but now she is being seen as the bold new face of Indian athletics.

The Worlds also told a story of Indian athletes keen to experiment which saw a few of them break new ground. Babar, who took to steeplechase only a year ago, broke her own National record — her third consecutive one in the event in a span of just 10 months — in the semi-final, and in the process became the first Indian to enter the final of a track event at the Worlds. She went on to finish a creditable eighth.

Babar’s feat was even more sparkling considering the fact that Kenya-born Bahraini Ruth Jebet, the Asian record holder, Asian Games champion and former World junior champion, was nearly four seconds behind the Indian in the 11th spot.

Babar’s training partner O. P. Jaisha also made history. Indian women were running the marathon for the first time at the World’s and Jaisha of Kerala, a 1500m-5000m runner who was running only her second marathon, broke her own National record while finishing 18th in 2:34.43s, with team-mate Sudha Singh taking the next spot in a personal best time.

Both Babar and Jaisha are coached by Nikolar Snesarev, and their performances in Beijing should make the Belarusian happy.

Big disappointments

There were no surprises as Commonwealth Games and Asian champion Vikas Gowda, currently the most experienced Indian in the international circuit, entered the men’s discus throw final, but his ninth place finish with a throw of just 62.24m was a bit of a disappointment. He has a season’s best of 65.75m and a personal best of 66.28m, which came in 2012.

A lot was expected of shot-putter Inderjeet Singh, the World University Games and Asian champion, too after he made the final with a splendid 20.47m in the qualification round. However, his 19.52m in the final saw him finish 11th.

Unlucky Luka

One expected Tintu Luka, who seemed to have received a fresh shot of confidence following her Asian Championship triumph in Wuhan early this year, to break the National 800m record in Beijing. She had been in wonderful form in her pre-Worlds training too. However, after leading her bunch with a hot first-lap pace of 57.02s in the first round heats, the Kerala girl lost her rhythm after suffering a knock midway through the second lap and finished seventh. That first-round heat was the strongest with six of the eight girls qualifying for the semi-final and Luka turned out to be very unlucky.

Tintu, who had expected to go below 1:59s and enter the final, however had the consolation of qualifying for the Olympics with her time of 2:00.95s (qualification standard 2:01s).

Disappointing long walk

The race walkers were a big disappointment. There were seven of them in the 17-member Indian team, but while none of the 20 km walkers could finish among the top 30 — Asian silver medal winner Khushbir Kaur was 37th in the women’s section, while Gurmeet Singh was 35th among men — the 50 km walkers did a lot better with Sandeep Kumar finishing 26th in a season-best time. Manish Singh clocked a personal best while taking the next spot.

Meanwhile, the Indian women’s 4x400m relay team, the Asian Games champion and record-holder which is being given a big push by the national body AFI as a potential medal winner in the Olympics, finished a disappointing eighth in its heats and failed to qualify for the final.

That is exactly where it stands on the world stage.