Hosts India topped the medals tally for the first time in the 44-year history of the Asian Athletics Championships which concluded at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Sunday. The hosts finished with 29 medals which included 12 gold, 5 silver and 12 bronze.
India's rising star Neeraj Chopra didn't disappoint a packed stadium as he won the gold in javelin throw with an effort of 85.23m. The 19-year-old made a nervous start with a faulty throw and followed with up with two decent efforts of 78.59m and 78.54m.
However, the former world junior champion, who impressed with a throw of 84.67m in the recently-concluded Paris Diamond League, saved his best for last. His winning throw had a golden hue to it even though he lost his footing on his follow through. Davinder Singh Kang added more lustre to Neeraj's effort with a bronze-winning effort of 83.29m. Incidentally, Kang's participation was in doubt after he tested positive for recreational drug marijuana but escaped suspension as the weed is specified substance only under the Wada code. In the process, all the three medal winners bettered the meet record of 83.27m set by Yukifumi Murakami of Japan in 2011.
Another youngster Swapna Burman also rose to the occasion, winning gold in the women's heptathlon event. The Bengal girl finished with her career-best performance to claim the gold with 5,942 points while Japan's Meg Hemphill took the silver with 5,883. Odisha's Purnima Hembram repeated her 2015 show to pick up a bronze with 5,798 points. Both men's and women's teams bagged gold in the 4x400m relay.
In a major upset, defending champion Tintu Luka pulled out of the women's 800m after leading the pack till the midway stage. But there was more drama surrounding the event as Archana Adhav, who went on to win the gold, subsequently lost her medal under Rule 163.2 (b), which disqualifies one for intentionally blocking a contestant. The gold finally went to Sri Lanka's Nirmala Waliwarsha (2:05.23s) after she raised a protest saying the Pune-based athlete had pushed her at the finishing line. Sri Lanka's Gayanthika Thushari won the bronze. Another Indian in the lineup, Bengal's Lily Das, who had claimed bronze in this year's Federation Cup, ended fifth in 2:07.49s.
It was a 1-2 for India in the men's 10,000m with Govindan Lakshmanan claiming his second gold after 5,000m, in a time of 29:55.87. Gopi Thonakal followed the leader home, albeit a good distance behind to claim silver in 29:58.89s.
In the men's 800m event, Jinson Johnson staged a late rally to win the bronze in 1:50.07s behind R Alzofairi of Kuwait (1:49.47s) and Qatar's Jamal Hairane (1:49.94).
Gold & London ticket for Sudha
Sudha Singh fetched India's only gold on Day three by winning the women's 3000m steeplechase event. The gold medal came as a mighty relief for Sudha who had thrice fallen short and had to settle for silver in the 2009, 2011 and 2013 editions. The victory also ensured Sudha a ticket to London for next month's World Championships.
The Rio Olympian made a strong start and pulled away from the pack to post a comfortable victory, By the time North Korea's 19-year-old Gyong Hyo crossed the finishing line to claim the silver medal, the 31-year-old Indian had already started her victory lap. While Sudha clocked 9:59.47s, Hyo recorded 10:1394s. Another Indian in the fray , Parul Chaudhury , ended fourth.
Anu Raghavan, who won women's 400m hurdles with a meet record in the Federation Cup last month, added a silver to India's medal haul. She staged a late comeback to push Japanese Sayaka Ayoki to the third position and finish with her personal best of 57.22s behind Vietnam's Nhuyen Thi Huyen (56.14s). In the corresponding men's event, MP Jabir recovered much ground in the last 100m to end up with a bronze in 50.22s.
Federation Cup gold winner Sheena NV picked a bronze in the women's triple jump event with a leap of 13.42m in her last attempt. She finished behind Kazakhastan duo of Mariya Ovchinnikova (13.72m) and twice Asian championship bronze medal winner Irina Ektova (13.62m).
Local girl Dutee Chand won her second bronze by anchoring the Indian women's 4x100m relay team to the third position behind Kazakhastan (43.53s) and China (44.50s). The team was given a good start by Merlin Joseph which Himashree Roy maintained well. But it was Srabani Nanda who set the pace as the third runner to hand over the baton to her statemate Dutee who raced home to finish in 44.57s.