Nomi (Japan): Gurmeet Singh today created history by becoming the first Indian athlete to clinch a gold medal in the Asian 20km Race Walk Championships as he won the men's event with his season's best effort.
The 30-year-old Gurmeet clocked 1 hour 20 minutes and 29 seconds. He beat Japan's Isamu Fujisawa (1:20:49) in a close fight in the last 5km. Kazakhstan's Georgiy Sheiko won the bronze medal in 1:21:52.
By winning the Asian title today, Gurmeet has made a strong case for himself for selection in the Rio Olympic Games. Nine Indians have so far bettered the Games qualifying standard in men's 20km race walk and only three will make it to the final in Rio.
Gurmeet's feat was the first time in 34 years that an Indian has won a gold in either an Asian Championships or Asian Games in this event.
Hakam Singh and Chand Ram won a gold each in 20km road walk in 1978 and 1982 Asian Games respectively. Since then, no Indian has won a gold at the continental level in this event.
Gurmeet was also sixth time lucky as he finally stood atop the podium after winning a silver and two bronze medals in his earlier five attempts in this championships.
He finished seventh in his first appearance in 2011, silver in 2012, a bronze each in 2013 and 2014 and ninth last year.
Gurmeet effort was just a few seconds outside his personal best of 1:20:22.60 (in Bhubaneshwar in 2012) as well the national record (1:20:21 in the name of K T Irfan).
In the women's 20km walk race event, National Games champion and Rio Games-bound Sapna finished fourth in a time of 1:35:57. China's Rui Liang won the gold in 1:28:43 while Kumiko Okada of Japan (1:30:03) and South Korean Jeongeun Lee (1:33:53) took the silver and bronze respectively.
National record holder and Rio Olympics bound athlete Khushbir Kaur, who won a bronze medal in the women's race here two years ago, withdrew from this year's competitions due to injury.