Rio de Janeiro: Lalita Babar on Saturday became become the first Indian woman after three decades to enter the final of a track event at the Olympic Games when she shattered the national mark to reach the 3000m steeplechase medal round.
Babar qualified for the women’s 3000m steeplechase final after finishing fourth in the qualifying Heat 2 with a new national record time of 9 minutes, 19.76 seconds while the holder of that mark, compatriot Sudha Singh, was eliminated after a poor run in Heat 3.
The 27-year-old Babar, who had won the bronze medal in the event in the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, two years ago, emulated “Payyoli Express" P.T. Usha by entering the final.
Usha, who runs a running academy now, was the first Indian woman to achieve the distinction when she made the finals of the women’s 400m hurdles in 1984 at Los Angeles before missing the bronze by a fraction of a second.
Lalita, in fact, finished with the seventh-best time in the heats by clipping nearly seven seconds off the existing national mark (9:26.55), clocked by Singh in Shanghai in May this year.
The top three in the three heats gained automatic qualification while Babar made the grade as one of the six fastest from among the rest. Had she ran in the third heat she would have qualified as the winner of that race.
Singh, on the other hand, was marred by a below-par performance, finishing a distant 9th in Heat and overall 30th out of 52 in the qualifiers.
Babar will be seen in the final of the gruelling race on 15 August. PTI