Incheon: Lalita Babar and Sudha Singh clinched a silver and a bronze under dramatic circumstances in women's 3000m steeplechase after a Bahraini runner was disqualified as India opened their medal account on the opening day of athletics competition at the Asian Games on Saturday.
Babar and defending champion Sudha were upgraded from bronze and fourth-place finish after Bahrain's Ruth Jebet was sensationally stripped of victory after comfortably winning the race in what could have been a Games record time.
The teenager, who switched nationality from her native Kenya last year, was disqualified for stepping inside the track on her second last lap after stumbling while well clear of the rest of the field and under no pressure. It was learnt that India lodged a protest that Jebet should be disqualified.
The announcement of her disqualification was made over the Incheon Asiad Main Stadium public address system as the 17-year-old was about to step onto the podium to receive her gold and the reigning world junior champion was led away in floods of tears.
Incidentally, this was the second time Jebet was stripped of a gold in a top competition in little more than a year as she had also won the 2013 Asian Championships title in Pune only to be ruled by the IAAF, the world governing body of the sport, that she was not eligible to run for Bahrain at that time. Sudha, who finished second in that event, was declared gold winner later on.
To the credit of the Indians, both Babar and Sudha ran their personal best times of 9:35.37 and 9:35.64 respectively.
Lalita and Sudha appeared headed to finish behind only pre-race gold medal favourite Jebet but China's Li Zhenzhu (9:35.23), who later won the gold after the Bahraini's disqualification, overtook them from nowhere on the final straight.
While Lalita, who hails from Satara in Maharashtra, dipped well under her previous best of 9:52.34 clocked at Federation Cup at Patiala last month when crossing the line in 9:35.37, her Mumbai-based Central Railway teammate Sudha too clocked her career-best time of 9:35.64, her earliest best being 9:45.60, clocked last year.