Beijing : Lalita Babar finished eighth in the 3000m steeplechase event while Tintu Luka crashed out in the first round heats of the 800m race but booked berth for the Rio olympics on the fifth day of the World Athletics Championships on Wednesday.
Given the gap in the personal best times with other athletes in the competition, Lalita was not expected to stand on the podium though she had smashed her own national record with a 9:27.86s effort in the semi-finals on Monday. But the 26-year-old Maharashtrian girl ran a good race, clocking 9:29.64, to become the first Indian track athlete (male and female) to finish in the top eight in a World Championship. So far, only two athletes — both from field events (long jumper Anju Bobby George and discus thrower Vikas Gowda) — have finished better than Lalita. She broke off the pack of runners early on to set the pace of the race but ran out of steam as seven of her rivals overtook her and left her behind with two rounds remaining. Kenya’s Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi won the event in 9:19.11s while Tunisia’s Olympic silver medallist Habibi Ghribi (9:19.24s) and Germany’s Gesa Felicitas Krause took the silver and bronze respectively.
Luka, the reigning Asian champion and national record holder, clocked her season’s best timing of 2:00.95s to finish seventh in the first of the six heats to fail to qualify for the semi-finals. Three top finishers in each of the six heats and the next six fastest timers qualify for the semi-finals. Luka, who has a personal best of 1:59.17s which she clocked in 2010, was expected at least to reach the semifinals but failed to do so. She though got the consolation of crossing the Rio Olympics qualification time of 2:01.00s.
Luka led the eight-woman field in the opening lap with a fast 57.06s time but ran out of steam when it came to the final push. Six runners ran past her in the last 200 meters as the Indian burnt herself out in a repeat scenario of so many of her races at the international stage.