Seema Antil hogs limelight, wins silver in discus
Melbourne, Mar 21: Underrated Seema Antil heralded her arrival in the international arena with a stunning performance before a packed MCG stadium crowd when she won a surprise silver medal in women's discus throw in the athletics competition of the Commonwealth Games here today.
The Haryana thrower's achievement is second such feat after Neelam Jaswant Singh won a silver in the Games four years ago.
Seema won gold in World Junior Championship in Santiago, Chile, in 2000, and then failed a dope test and had the medal stripped off. But, she came back into athletics as she claimed that she had mistakenly taken a pill for common cold.
Now that she is back, she has emerged as one of India's leading throwers winning silver here with her season's best throw. India's two other throwers, Krishna Poonia with personal best of 58.65m and Harwant Kaur (57.64m), finished fifth and seventh.
In other events, Vikas Gowda also entered the men's discus final with the fourth best throw overall. He touched a best throw of 60.35m and went past the automatic qualifying mark of 60 metres.
The best qualifier was Jason Turks of Canada with a best of 64.07 and Australian star Scott Martin was next with best throw of 60.63m.
In women's 400m final, Manjit Kaur came seventh clocking 52.58s, but with three races in as many days, she looked good, which augurs well for India's chances in 4 x 400m relay. Christine Ohuruogu of England took the gold in 50.28 seconds, also her personal best. Tonique Williams of Bahamas, touted as the favourite before the race, was second in 50.76s and Novlene Williams of Jamaica third in 51.12s.
Before coming here, Seema had a mediocre season last year when her best was only 56.96 metres. But, she came out of nowhere, so to say, in the Federation Cup in Delhi, a week before departure for the Games to record a distance of 59.51 metres to project herself as a medal contender at the Games.
Harwant Kaur needed a special trial to attain the standard expected from her by the Athletics Federation of India and in her trials she attained 58.94. Immediately after the trials Harwant forecast a 60m throw and a podium finish in Melbourne but that was not to be. She had 57.64m in her last attempt.
Repeat of trial performance would have fetched her fifthn place the spot occupied by Krishna Poonia.
Poonia, winner of bronze medal in Incheon Asian Track and Field meet last year, came up with her personal best throw in her first attempt. The tall, well-built Seema, who shifted to discus after trying hurdles and long jump, was one of the only two throwers to go over 60 metres in a low key contest won by South African Elizna Naude with a best of 61.55m. Naude had three of her throws sailing past 60 metres. Behind Seema was Dani Samuels of Australia, who grabbed the bronze with a best of 59.44m.
Four years ago, Neelam Jaswant Singh had written a new chapter by becoming the first Indian women to win a Commonwealth Games athletics medal, but last year she failed a dope test at the Helsiniki World Championships. She is currently fighting to prove her innocence and is under suspension by the Athletics Federation of India and the world body.
Seema has in the past few years had to live under the shadow of Neelam, but with the latter out of the frame for the present, she is the top gun in the event.
Seema led the field for the first two rounds with her opening round 59.77m and her second round throw of 60.56m being the top two throws till then.
Naude of South Africa came into the picture with a third round throw of 61.55m and that held for the rest of evening. Seema, in her endeavour to come up with a big one close to her best of 64.84m achieved in a meet in Kiev in 2004, fouled two of her throws, but nothing went past 60 metres and in the end she had to be satisfied with a silver.
Even then it opened a new chapter for her and she remains the best hope as long as she stays clean.
Australia's Dani Samuels with personal best of 59.44, which came in the last attempt, won the bronze. New Zealand's former world champion Beatrice Faumuina, the defending champion, finished a poor fourth with a throw of 59.12m which she achieved in her fifth attempt. Her performance was nowhere near her Games record effort of 65.92m which she had set in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur.
Before Seema's silver this evening, in Commonwealth Games athletics, only Milkha Singh (1958 Empire Games, 440 yards gold), Suresh Babu (long jump bronze in 1978), Mohinder Singh Gill (triple jump bronze in 1970, silver in 1974), Praveen Kumar (hammer throw silver in 1966), Anju Bobby George (bronze in long jump in 2002) and Neelam Jaswant Singh (silver in discus in 2002), had won medals.
Meanwhile, in decathlon Jora singh withdrew midway through the competition because of injury, while in heptathlon, J J Shobha, Soma Biswas and Susmita Singha Roy were lying way down the leaderboard at the end of the half way stage of the competition.
Coming to women's long jump, where India has hopes pinned on Anju, the Indian did begin as one of the medal prospects, despite a poor season. The top qualifier was Bronwyn Thompson, who loves this stadium, where she has achieved her personal best of seven metres in 2002. Bronwyn, who recently touched 6.91m in a Grand Prix Meet in Melbourne, took just one jump of 6.71m, which earned her the automatic berth. The other athletes to take automatic berths with leaps of over 6.50m were Jade Johnson of England (6.52m) and Jamaican Elva Goulbourne, the defending champion, who touched 6.55m.
Newcomer Kerrie Taurima of Australia had a best of 6.48m and Jackie Edwards of Bahamas cleared 6.42m. Anju was the sixth best with 6.41m.
Anju, who turns 30 next month, lunged 6.38m in her first two attempts before improving by three centimeters in her final effort.
However, the Indian's performance was below her season's best effort of 6.47m in the recent Federation Cup at New Delhi.
Anju, who has often done well on the big stage, will need to draw on all her experience and reserves to come up with a big jump to come into contention for a medal. She rose to the occasion at the Paris 2003 World Championships and became the first Indian to win a medal and then again broke new ground by making it to the Olympic final, where she finished sixth with a career best jump of 6.83m.
Meanwhile, Pinki Parmanik extended her stay in the wowen's 800m by reaching semi-finals of the event timing 2:05.18s, rather slow but good enough to earn one of the spots meant for the fastest losers. She was third in her heat, which was won by Kenyan Kenia Sinclair in 2:04.44s, and it was more of a jog towards the end for her.
The top two in each of the heats and the six other fastest runners qualified.
However, Pinky faces an uphill battle in the semifinal as her heat timing was the worst among the runners who made it to the semifinal. Scotland's Tusan Scott clocked 2 minutes 02.85 seconds to emerge fastest so far in the event.
Ranjith Jayaseelan may not be as familiar a name as Anju Bobby George, but today he was the medallist and the latter only a qualifier. Jayaseelan added his bit towards the medal tally when he finished third and earned a bronze medal in the men's discus for Elite Athletes with a Disability (EAD). The 21-year-old Jayaseelan threw the disc to 29.88m in his fourth attempt, his best for the day. It was way below his personal best of 36 metres achieved last year, but it did fetch him a bronze.
Jayaseelan was capable of a gold medal this morning. Had he come close to his personal best, he would have got gold, for the top spot went for a throw of 34.48m to Tanto Campbell of Jamaica.
Jayaseelan's other throws measured 27.50m, 29.78m and 29.73m.
It was India's second medal from athletics, after Seema Antil's silver in women's discus. This is also the first time that, medals earned by EAD athletes will be counted towards the overall tally.
Also in EAD events, Girraj qualified for the final of the 200m race scheduled for tomorrow.
Racing in the innermost lane number one, the 21-year-old athlete timed 23.94s, a personal best, as he finished fourth in his heat and moved into the final as one of the two fastest losers. Girraj, who also represented India in the Athens Olympics, had a previous personal best was 28.50s set in October last year.
In the last event of the day, India's Ghamanda Ram failed to qualify for the final in the 800m race.
The 22-year old armyman, running in lane three of the heat one, clocked below-par 1:48.03 to finish fourth in a six-men field.
Ghamanda, who had timed 1:46.67 in the national open at Hyderabad, was in a tough heat because two other runners Sherridan Kirk of Trindad and Tobago and Kenya's Cosmas Rono clocked 1:49.33 and 1:49.33 to finish first and second in the heat.
The indian tried hard in the final stages of the race to catch up but coiuld not do so. Interestingly Ghamanda had won a gold in 800m at the Asian Indoor Championships at Pattaya, Thailand, clocking 1:50.60 last year.
Top two runners from each of the three heats qualified and two more -- two fastest losers -- make up the field of eight for the final.
Ghamanda did not figure among the two fastest losers. The fastest loser qualifiers were Jason Stewart of New zealand (1:47.74) and Onalenna Oabona of Botswana (1:47.78)