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Paddlers Soumyajit, Ankita qualify for London Olympics

New Delhi: Bengal paddlers Soumyajit Ghosh and Ankita Das booked their London Olympics berths on the concluding day of the Asian Olympic Qualification Table Tennis Tournament in Hong Kong, but it was a real heartbreak for top paddler Achanta Sharath Kamal.

For both Soumyajit and Ankita, the berths came via the continental quotas, after they topped from the South Asian region.

"I have realized my dream today and will prepare well for the Olympics. It was a real tough match against Amal Raj and it could have been anybody?s game. I am happy I won it to earn the spot," the Siliguri lad, who became the first Indian to win the world junior circuit title in 2010.

Soumyajit pipped compatriot and current national champion Anthony Amal Raj to emerge as the highest placed paddler in the South Asian region while Ankita won a hard fought battle against fellow Indian Kumaresan Shamini to seal a berth in the London Olympics.

Ghosh, who had an inconsistent run in the tournament, lost to Song Man Jang of North Korea in the first match of the day before coming back strongly to beat Tran Tuan Quynh of Vietnam and then overcoming Amal Raj to finish as the second reserve position.

Ghosh started off the day losing 2-4 (5-11, 11-9, 6-11, 12-10, 6-11, 4-11) to Jang, but that didn`t prove a deterrent for him as he clawed his way back whitewashing Quynh 4-0 (11-5, 11-5, 11-0, 11-0) before accounting for Amal Raj in another one-sided affair.

Amal Raj showed some fight in the opening game dragging Gosh to a 10-12 finish but that was not enough as the later won the next three games 11-9, 11-6, 11-7 to seal the match and the qualifying place.

Ankita, meanwhile, downed Shamini 4-3 (8-11, 11-3, 11-8, 11-13, 11-9, 9-11, 11-8) to bag herself a ticket to the London Games.

"It was a 50-50 match. I was playing well but I believe she was lucky. It was her day, she played really well," Shamini told PTI over phone.

The 19-year-old Ankita, who incidentally became the youngest Indian girl to qualify for Olympics, gave credit to national coach Bhawani Mukherjee for giving her the confidence to compete at the highest level.

"Bhawani Da was always at hand to help in crunch situations. Today?s win against Shamini was my finest in a tense situation. I look forward to going to London," Ankita said.

It was, however, a disappointing day for country's ace table tennis player Sharath Kamal as he failed to clinch the last qualifying spot and returned with fourth reserve position.

Sharath and Amalraj will have yet another chance to book their ticket to the marquee event in the final World Olympic Qualification tournament to be held in Doha, Qatar from May 10.

Kamal, who yesterday lost to North Korea's Kim Song Nam to let lose the fifth qualifying spot, went down 1-4 to Chih-Chi Wu of Taipei.

The 29-year-old's wretched run continued as he lost first three games 9-11, 9-11, 7-11 before winning the fourth game 11-2. But that did not prove enough as Wu bounced back to clinch the fifth game 11-8 to force Kamal out of the reckoning.

The defeat meant Kamal had to play compatriot Amal Raj in the group 'H' match for the second-third reserve position.

However, Amal Raj got better of Kamal in a grueling 4-3 encounter before succumbing to Ghosh to settle for third reserve position.

Forced to play against Vietnam's Quynh for the fourth-fifth reserve spot, Kamal bagged the fourth spot by way of a walk-over. There were some encouraging words for Kamal from the national coach, who felt his loss to world No. 1 Ma Long was really detrimental.

"He had very good chances to finish among top four, but the loss to world No. 1 Ma Long did him and the second chance against North Korean Nam, who he had beaten earlier in group stages," said Mukherjee.