India at Asiad: ‘Magic’ Johnson, women’s relay team burn track; hockey flops
Jakarta: There was no stopping the gold rush from track-and-field as India exceeded all expectations for its best Asian Games performance in close to seven decades but heartbreak in hockey took some sheen off the country’s sprint past the previous edition’s medal haul today.
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 in which India signed off seven gold, 10 silver and two bronze medals, the country’s best haul since 1951.
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 today. 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 their remarkable dominance of 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 men’s team could not get the top position but pulled off a creditable silver with the quartet of Kunhu Muhammed, Dharunn 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 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 champions Pakistan in the bronze medal play-off. Pakistan lost 0-1 to Japan in the other semifinals.
Malaysia, who had beaten India in the last-four stage eight years ago at Guangzhou, made their wasteful opponents pay for their mistakes, both in regulation time and shoot-off. Both teams were tied at 2-2 after 60 minutes.
In the shoot-off, it was anyone’s game and Malaysia handled the nerves better to make their second Asiad final.
India, who had scored a record 76 goals in the group stage, were left stunned after S V Sunil missed his attempt in the sudden death. Only Akashdeep and Harmanpreet scored in the first five shots of the shoot-off while Manpreet Singh, Dilpreet Singh and Sunil faltered.
“Malaysia are the deserving winners. We committed too many unforced errors and paid the price. We did not keep things simple. We tried to show our Indian skills and by doing that we lost the momentum. It is a big setback for Indian hockey. The road to Olympics is a lot bumpier now. We missed the easiest chance to qualify,” conceded Indian coach Harendra Singh.
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 champions Malaysia.
Senior players Dipika Pallikal and Joshna Chinappa lost their matches against Joey Chan and Annie Au, 1-3 and 0-3, respectively.
Sunayna Kuruvilla, who is Pallikal’s cousin, kept India in the hunt with a fighting win over Tze Lok Ho in the second singles.
Kuruvilla, making her Games debut, was trailing 0-2 in the match and 7-10 in the fifth and deciding game but she never gave up despite some debatable calls by the referee. She fought till the last point for the biggest win of her career, prevailing 5-11, 13-15, 11-6, 11-9, 14-12.
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 yesterday.