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Olympics: Lalita Babar lights up day for India by reaching steeplechase final

Switzerland's Martina Hingis speaks to India's Sania Mirza during their women's first round doubles match at the French Open in Paris

Lalita clocked a national mark of 9 minutes, 19.76 seconds while finishing fourth in heat 2 and progressed to the final, scheduled on August 15, on the basis of being among the fastest six from the rest who did not directly qualify from the three preliminary heats. She became the first Indian to reach the final of a track event at the Olympics in 32 years. The reason why you should be following the results of this event is because Sudha Singh happens to be a national record-holder who clocked 9:26.55 to better the earlier record of 9:27.09 held by Lalita Babar in the IAAF Diamond League Meet in Shanghai in May this year. Lalita was the fastest among the losers and confirmed her qualification. However, her compatriot Sudha Singh failed to make the cut, finishing 30th with a time of 9:43.29. She followed it up with a gold medal at the 2015 Asian Championships clocking 9:34.13 and breaking the national record. Lalita, in fact, had clocked 9:27.09 at New Delhi in the Federation Cup in April, her personal best which was the then national mark that was obliterated two months later by Sudha.

Sprinter Dutee Chand finished a disappointing seventh in her 100m heats on the opening day.

In heat 2, Lalita was upstaged by Beatrice Chepkoech of Kenya (9:17.55), Emma Coburn of United States of America (9:18.12) and Habiba Ghribi of Tunisia (9:18.71), all of who ended up as automatic qualifiers. This hampered her chances to qualify for the final but she recovered to finish the race in the fouth place. She finished her heats in the ninth position.

"Now all the focus for the final on the Independence Day", said Lalita, who became the first Indian woman after P T Usha to qualify for the track & field finals in Olympics.

Only PT Usha achieved this feat in 400m hurdles in the 1984 Games.