Priyanka Goswami on Saturday was stopped backstage by one of the Commonwealth Games volunteers ahead of the medal ceremony for the women’s 10,000m race walk at the Alexander Stadium. The silver medallist was holding a small metallic statue of Bal Gopala (Lord Krishna as a baby).
“They asked me to keep it in my pocket. How would they know what this means to me?” Priyanka said. She went in with it, nevertheless, posing for the shutterbugs with the idol and her medal.
The athlete, who had just become the first-ever Indian woman to bag a medal in the 10,000m race walk at CWG with a personal best timing of 43:38.83, said she carries the statue of the deity wherever she competes.
“When the lockdown happened, everybody went crazy, so this is thanks to my mother. She said this would keep me well. I took it to the Bengaluru national camp and kept it there for three-four months. I started doing well and qualified for the Olympics (for 20km race walk). Since then, I made sure this stays with me,” Priyanka says.
During the race, she had kept the idol with Athletics Federation of India (AFI) head coach Radhakrishnan Nair.
For Priyanka, it was an experience of a lifetime to have so many people cheer for her.
“I was constantly hearing voices from the stands saying, ‘The woman coming third is way behind you, no worries if you come back with bronze also.’ At other times, we have it on roads and nobody is there to watch it.”
Australia's Jemima Montag won gold with a Games Record timing of 42:34.30 while Emily Wamusyi Ngii of Kenya won bronze with 43:50.86.
Priyanka, who used to be a gymnast in her schooldays, switched to athletics only because a district competition had decided to give away backpacks as prizes.
“There was a district-level competition, where they were giving away bags as prizes. I tried to participate in two to three events but didn’t win anything. I was jealous when I saw others win three-four bags. Only race walking was left, so I thought, ‘walking seems to be simple, why not do it?’ And somehow, I came third. Since then, I started taking it very seriously,” she said.
“Of course, I didn’t know there were so many technicalities. When I kept playing Nationals and the medals kept coming my confidence grew.”
Priyanka also faced financial difficulties before receiving assistance from TOPS (Target Olympic Podium Scheme).
“My father, Madan Goswami, had a job in Roadways, which has been ‘suspended’ for a while. So, he stays home with my mother and younger brother. I am the sole bread-earner. When I didn’t have a job, it was difficult, and I felt like running away from home. At that time, you are not even there in camps, so you have a lot to worry about. I had to stay outside and be mindful of what I eat and do because of the expenses involved,” said Priyanka, who now works for the Railways.
Priyanka hopes the medal will do good to her sport too. “Nobody knows about race walking. Maybe tomorrow, they will talk about it. But then again, many other medals will come so it may take a backseat,” she said.
The qualification cycle for Paris 2024 starts next year. Priyanka will concentrate on the Asian Games and World Championships, both scheduled for 2023. For now, she is only looking forward to a hearty lunch.
“Had a slice of bread and jam for breakfast. Medal ne pet bhar diya thha (The medal was filling enough).”