Woman steeplechaser Lalita Babar clipped nearly seven seconds off the existing national mark in the qualifiers to make a storming entry into the final of the gruelling event in the Olympic Games here on Saturday, but compatriot Sudha Singh fell by the wayside and exited.
Lalita clocked a national mark of 9 minutes, 19.76 seconds while finishing fourth in heat 2 and progressed to the final, scheduled on August 15, on the basis of being among the fastest six from the rest who did not directly qualify from the three preliminary heats. The top three in the three heats gain automatic qualification while Lalita, hailing from Maharashtra, made the grade as one of the six fastest from among the rest.
Lalita, who had won the bronze medal in the event in the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, two years ago, in fact finished with the seventh-best time in the heats with the new national record to boot.
Lalita, thus, became the second Indian woman to qualify for an Olympic final in track and field after ‘Payyoli Express’ P T Usha in the 400m hurdles in 1984 at Los Angeles.
Vikas Gowda, in men’s discus, was also the last from the country to make the finals in athletics — in 2008 at Beijing. Lalita obliterated the previous mark standing in the name of Sudha Singh (9:26.55), clocked in Shanghai in May. Lalita, in fact, had clocked 9:27.09 at New Delhi in the Federation Cup in April, her personal best which was the then national mark that was obliterated two months later by Sudha. Lalita has become the first women to qualify in the finals of an athletics event after PT Usha in 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Lalita will be seen in the final on August 15.
Sudha, on the other hand, performed far below her best to finish a distant 9th in heat 3 with a poor time of 9:43.29, which gave her the 30th spot out of 52 in the qualifiers. The third Indian athlete in fray in on Saturday’s action, Nirmala Sheoran, looked totally out of depth in the women’s 400m preliminaries in which she finished a distant 35th overall after ending up sixth out of seven runners in heat 1 in 53.03 seconds.
On the world front, Usain Bolt won the 100m heat with a timing of 10.07 seconds and qualified for the semi-finals.