Rio de Janeiro, Aug 14: She has been quite a trendsetter in Indian athletics and Lalita Babar will be expected to scale new heights when she gets on her mark for the 3000m steeplechase final at the Rio Olympics on Monday (Aug 15).
Winning a medal will though be tough but not entirely impossible for the 27-year-old from the drought-prone Satara district in Maharashtra, who became the second Indian woman after PT Usha in 1984 Los Angeles, to qualify for a final at a track event at quadrennial extravaganza.
The last woman to qualify for the field event was Anju Bobby George in long jump in 2004 Athens edition. Babar qualified for the final round after finishing fourth in her heats with a national record timing of 9 minutes, 19.76 seconds. She was the seventh fastest qualifier overall.
Social media is abuzz with images of Babar's parents visiting temples and performing pujas at her native place in Maharashtra and she is set to be torch bearer of Indian athletics in this Olympics if she repeats her timing or does better tomorrow.
But, it will have to be seen whether Babar will be able to better Usha, who missed the bronze by one-hundreth of a second, or will she be able to have a sniff of the elusive athletics medal in Olympics as the field is extremely tough with the global creame in this event, including the reigning world champion, the reigning Olympic champion as well as the season leader, are all in the fray.
At least five runners, who finished ahead of Babar in the World Championships in Beijing last year, will be competing in the finals tomorrow. Babar had finished eighth in the World Championships with a time of 9:27.86. The favourite to win tomorrow is Kenyan-born Ruth Jebet, who switched to Baharain colours in 2013.
She is the season leader with an astounding 8:59.97s which she clocked in Eugene in May and she ran 9:12.62 to win her heat yesterday though she finished 11th at the World Championships last year behind Babar.
Then there is the 32-year-old veteran Habibi Gharibi of Tunisia who won the gold in London four years ago besides winning the silver in the World Championships last year. She has a personal best of 9:05.36 which she clocked in September last year.
She clocked 9:18.71 to finished third in heat number 2. 24-year-old last World Championships gold winner Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkomoi of Kenya is also in the fray with a personal best of 9:00.01 which she clocked in She Eugene in May. She clocked 9:24.61 to win heat number 3 yesterday.