Preeja Sreedharan and Sudha Singh made it a golden evening for India as the track and field athletics programme got off to a roaring start at the Aoti arena on Sunday. Riled and ridiculed in the last edition of the Asian Games in Doha and a flop show at the Beijing Olympics, Indian athletics is beginning to show guts and glory. If the Commonwealth Games was a big surprise, Day One at athletics was truly sensational as Preeja and Nashik-born Kavita Raut clinched gold and silver respectively in the 10,000 metres in a classy field where the Chinese and Japanese runners were supposed to dominate. Even before the euphoria of the 10,000m could sink in, unassuming Railways girl Sudha Singh won a sensational 3,000 steeplechase final with China’s Jin Yuan at her heels. She clocked 9 minutes 55.67 seconds. Back to the first surprise of the day, the way Preeja and Kavita ran the 25-lap event in front of a packed stadium was remarkable.Not having won a medal in the Commonwealth Games, rankled Preeja. As one who has also been battling asthma, the Kerala girl’s hunger for success was magnified. Yet, what made the two Indians look so good on Sunday was the final stage of the race when Preeja came into her own and outkicked the field after the final bend to seal gold in a personal best 31:50.47. Her winning margin was almost a second and Kavita came second in 31:51.44. Both of them clocked their personal best timings. In a race where saw seven of the 11 runners registered their personal best timings, another Ethiopian-born Bahrain athlete Shitay Habtegebrel claimed bronze. In the history of the 10,000m which was introduced at the Seoul Asiad in 1986, this is the first time a Chinese or a Japanese runner did not win a medal.advertisementAt 28, Preeja is one of the most accomplished 5,000 and 10,000 metres runner. An Asian Games gold was very special as she did an emo- tional victory lap with Kavita as fans cheered them. “Our coach Nikolai (Snesarev) had told us to run a tactical race. His advice was that if Kavita and I could run together, there was a medal chance. And that’s what we did as the last lap turned out be decisive. Our coach has been truly inspirational,” said Preeja. “I ran my own style and my own pace and I won. I didn’t think about the other competitors,” she said. The uniqueness about the 10,000m event was that till the last 100 metres, neither Preeja nor Kavita led the field.Japan’s Kayoko Fukushi, who had the fastest personal best in the field at 30:51.81, led for the first 2,000 metres. After that, Shitaya Habtegebrel of Bahrain took the lead for a couple of laps after which the lead kept changing between Fukushi, her teammate Hikari Yoshimoto and Habtegebrel. As the runners approached the last two laps, it was Habtegebrel who took the bell first and even on the back straight of the final lap, she looked in control. Into the final bend, the Indians made their decisive move and raced home. The 3,000m steeplechase turned out to be even more dramatic as the Mumbai-based Sudha held off a strong late challenge from China’s Jin Yuan, with close to 55,000 fanatic fans cheering, to win by four one-hundredths of a second.The sparse Indian fan base had their jaws gaping as in the final moments of the race Jin increased her stride length rapidly. Had the race been a metre longer, she may have won. Sudha had finished fifth at the Commonwealth Games in October and was very keen to do well here. However, it is on nights like these that a star is born and Sudha made a sudden burst for home. Minori Hayakari of Japan won the bronze medal. “I have won at the same venue before at the Asian championship when I broke the national record. “I knew I had to win at any cost as I lost a medal at the CWG. This is a very big day as I had not dreamt of winning gold,” said the ultra-thin Sudha.