Hailing from a small Kahneke village in Punjab’s Barnala district, Akshdeep Singh had a dream of joining the Indian Army but his preparation for getting selected into the force eventually turned him into an athlete.
Singh, 23, last month secured his berth for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games after setting a national record in the 20 km race-walk at the 10th National Open Race Walking championship held at Ranchi in Jharkhand.
In the race-walk, Singh’s timing was 1 hour 19 minutes and 55 seconds, breaking the previous national record of 1:20:16, which was in the name of Haryana’s Sandeep Kumar.
Singh said when he was 10 years old, his dream was to join the army through a recruitment drive.
“When I was 15 years old, I started preparing to follow my dream of joining the army as a soldier,” he said.
“At that time, I was running fast, and even the elder village youths who were training for the army recruitment drive, praised me for this. They suggested that I become an athlete.” Singh met coach Jaspreet Singh at a stadium in Barnala. “But the coach suggested that I opt for race-walking. I initially did not like it as I was keen on running,” he said.
In December 2016, Singh came to Patiala, where coach Gurdev Singh trained him in race-walk.
“I finally made up my mind in April 2017 to do race-walking,” he said.
Singh won his first bronze medal in the under-18 north India championship held at Tarn Taran. He then competed in under-18 junior nationals and won the silver medal. In the All India University Games, he again won a silver medal in 2017.
Within a year of his training, Singh won a gold medal at the All India Inter-university games.
However, a knee injury in 2019 prevented him from taking part in the World University games in Italy. He participated in the national level event in February 2020 but secured a 12th position.
With the COVID-19 lockdown in place and moreover, not having fully recovered from his injury, Singh started having second thoughts about his game.
“But my inner voice motivated me again to make my future in my sport,” he said.
Singh went to Bangalore in 2021 and again started undergoing training.
In January 2022, Singh made a new record in the All India inter-university games at Mangalore. “I was declared the best athlete of the tournament. With this, I regained confidence.” Last year, Singh got a job in the Indian Navy.
Singh is now preparing for the upcoming Asian Games in China and World Championships in Hungary this year.
“I will give my best to win medals in these Games and it will also boost my confidence ahead of the Paris Olympic Games next year,” he said.
Singh’s family has two-acre farmland in Barnala. His father works in a chemical factory while his mother is in Anganwadi.
“I am getting complete support from my family,” he said.
The Punjab government last month gave Rs 5 lakh to Singh for his preparation for the 2024 Olympic Games.
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