Already qualified for Paris 2024 Olympics, race walker Akshdeep breaks own NR in men’s 20km event

A Paris 2024 Olympics berth already secured, Akshdeep Singh of Punjab shattered his own national record en route retaining the men’s 20km title at the National Open Race Walking competition on Tuesday.

Published : Jan 30, 2024 19:01 IST , Chandigarh - 5 MINS READ

Akshdeep Singh breaks National Record.
Akshdeep Singh breaks National Record. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Akshdeep Singh breaks National Record. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A Paris 2024 Olympics berth already secured, Akshdeep Singh of Punjab shattered his own national record en route retaining the men’s 20km title at the National Open Race Walking competition here on Tuesday.

Akshdeep, who qualified for this year’s Olympics while winning the title in the 2023 edition of the National Open Race Walking Competition in Ranchi, clocked one hour 19 minutes and 38 seconds to better his earlier national mark of 1:19:55s.

The second to fourth finishers -- Suraj Panwar (1:19:44s) of Uttarakhand, Servin Sebastian (1:20:03s) of Tamil Nadu and Arshpreet Singh (1:20:04s) of Punjab -- also breached the Paris Games qualifying mark of 1:20:10s, taking the total number of Indian men’s 20km race walkers who have touched the 2024 Olympics mark to six.

Pramjeet Bisht and Vikas Singh had also qualified for the Paris Games during the Asian Race Walk Championships in Japan last year.

A country can send only three athletes in an individual track and field event in the Olympics and it will now be up to the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) to determine who makes the cut for the Paris Games out of the six race walkers.

Chief athletics coach Radhakrishnan Nair said the final selection will take place later in June.

READ | After three golds at Khelo India Youth Games 2024, swimmer Vritti Agarwal aims for Olympics

The opening day of the two-day competition held at the picturesque course at the Sukhna Lake here turned out to be a bumper harvest for Olympics qualification, though there was a bit of confusion initially regarding the timings of the competitors.

Initially, the photo-finish results (put up in AFI’s ‘X’ handle) indicated the top two athletes were within the Olympic Games qualification time. Later, as per chip timings, four athletes breached the Paris Games qualification standard.

Born to farmer father at Kahneke village in Barnala district of Punjab, the 24-year-old Akshdeep became the first Indian from athletics, along with seasoned woman race walker Priyanka Goswami, to qualify for the Paris Olympics. He breached the 2024 Games mark with his earlier national record time of 1:19:55s in Ranchi last year.

As a child, Akshdeep, who missed the Hangzhou Asian Games due to injury, would drink a lot of milk from buffaloes reared by his farther who encouraged his son to take up sport to get an Indian Army job.

“I will have to work smart to stay away from injuries and sustain my performance in coming weeks,” Akshdeep said after the event.

The 22-year-old Panwar, who had won a 5000m race walk silver in 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, had also finished second in the last edition in Ranchi in 2023 with a time of 1:20:11s.

Hailing from a village near Dehradun, Panwar was raised single-handedly by his mother, who works at a forest department nursery, after his father died when he was less than one year old. He had competed in the Youth Olympics with a second-hand pair of shoes given by Olympian Manish Singh Rawat.

Panwar, who had agonisingly missed the Olympics qualification mark last year in Ranchi and have had to battle injuries in the last 10 months, was elated to bounce back into contention for an Olympic Games berth.

“It was a great day for me to have broken the one hour 20 minutes barrier in the 20km race walk today in Chandigarh,” Panwar said.

“My job in the coming days will be to stay healthy and maintain my fitness.” In the women’s 20km race walk event, Manju Rani of Punjab won the gold with a personal best time of 1:33:00s, while Payal (1:33:28s) of Uttarakhand and Munita Prajapati (1:34:14s) of Uttar Pradesh took the silver and bronze respectively.

Manju’s winning time was well outside the Paris Olympics qualifying mark of 1:29:20s but she ensured that Punjab swept both the men’s and women’s title. She had won a bronze medal in the mixed team 35km race walk event in the Hangzhou Asian Games, along with Ram Baboo. Manju was happy to have won gold in her first race in 20km event.

“It was a good day for me. I’m happy to have clocked a 1:33:00s in the season opening race to win gold,” said Manju.

For 24-year-old Manju, it was an arduous task to secure permission for staying away from the eyes of a protective family, living in Khaira Khurd -- a small village in Punjab’s Mansa district -- and pursue a career in sport.

Her grandmother was apprehensive and denied permission but a supportive father understood the burning desire of a mother-less child to become an athlete and eventually let her move to the SAI centre, Badal in Muktsar district when she was in class six.

National record holder Priyanka Goswami, who last year qualified for the Paris Olympics, did not take part in the competition here as she is currently training in Australia.

The Paris Olympics qualifying window for race walk events began on December 31, 2022 and will end on June 30, 2024.

Haryana’s Aarti also broke the under-20 women’s 10km race walk national record, clocking 47 minute and three seconds. The earlier national record of 49:01s was in the name of Mansi Negi created in 2021.

Himanshu Kumar of Uttarakhand won gold in the under-20 men’s 10km race walk event with a time of 41 minute and 11 seconds.

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