Rio de Janeiro: K. Srikanth and P.V. Sindhu kept the medal hopes alive in badminton with facile wins but boxers drew a blank after Vikas Krishan was ousted in the quarterfinals on a mixed day for Indian athletes in the Rio Games here. The 21-19 21-19 win for Srikanth, ranked 11th in the world, lifted the sagging spirits of India on the 10th day of competitions as he became the second shuttler after P. Kashyap in the London Games four years ago to reach the last eight in men’s singles.
Later, two-time World Championship bronze-medallist P. V. Sindhu advanced to the quarterfinals of the women’s singles competition after notching up a dominating straight-game win over Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying at the Olympic Games here. The 21-year-old from Hyderabad outclassed eighth seed Tai 21-13 21-15 in a 40-minute pre-quarterfinals clash here.
She will next take on China’s Wang Yihan, the London Olympics silver-medallist. However, India’s slim hopes of a medal in the women’s 3000m steeplechase disappeared when Lalita Babar, the first track athlete to qualify for an Olympic final in 32 years, could finish only 10th in 9 minutes, 22.74 seconds.
She had set a new national mark of 9:19.76s when she qualified for the final two days ago, but could not improve on it in a race won with a searing run to the gold by Bahrain’s diminutive Kenya-born Asian Games champion Ruth Jebet in 8:59.75s. Despite her 10th place finish, Babar’s effort was still the best performance by an Indian in a track event after P.T. Usha’s fourth-place finish in the 400m hurdles in 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
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The 27-year-old from the drought-prone Satara district in Maharashtra had become the second Indian woman after Usha in 1984 Los Angeles to qualify for a final at a track event at quadrennial extravaganza. 2015 World Championships gold winner Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkomoi of Kenya took the silver in 9:07.12s while American Emma Coburn won the bronze in 9:07.63s.
Lalita Babar’s parents felt dejected after their daughter finished 10th in steeplechase final at the Rio Olympics, but are still very much proud of her. “We are proud as she represented India at the Olympics and performed in the final. We feel sad for her as she was quite confident and had reached that level fighting against heavy odds," said Shivaji Babar, her father.
“Though she could not win a medal, she will continue to do her best in future and we will continue to encourage her," said Babar, who works as a truck driver. Known as “Maan-deshi Express", Babar comes from a financially weak family from Mohi village in drought-prone Maan tehsil of Satara district in the western Maharashtra. “In the absence of proper training facilities in the vicinity and due to hilly terrain, she faced plenty of hardships. She used to practise around the school in our village," said Babar.
One of the physical training teachers at the village school, Mugut Patole, recalls that Lalita was especially fond of the traditional sport of Kho-Kho at school until she discovered the distance running. “She used to help her parents in the farm and fearing that she would be late, would run to the school. That made her tough," Patole said.
Lalita is the first track athlete to qualify for an Olympic final in 32 years. Despite her 10th place finish, Babar’s effort was still the best performance by an Indian in a track event after P.T. Usha’s fourth-place finish in the 400m hurdles in 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.