Indian walkers gear up for National Championship

About 120 walkers from 14 States and the Services will compete in the men’s, women’s and junior (10 km) events, in the upcoming National Race Walking Championship in Jaipur.

India's Khushbir Kaur (second from left) will be one of India's participants at the National Race Walking Championship.   -  AP

The best walkers of the country, including seven athletes who have qualified for the Rio Olympics, will be seen in action in the National Race Walking championship to be staged here on Saturday and Sunday. More than the seven qualified walkers, the focus will be on K.T. Irfan, who had finished 10th in the London Olympics, and is yet to achieve the qualification mark for the Olympics.

“I have been out for about a year and a half owing to my right ankle injury. I have been training for the last five months. I am very hopeful of reaching the qualification mark, and giving a better performance in the next Olympics,” said the 26-year-old Irfan.

Addressing the media here on Friday, C.K. Valson, the secretary general of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), said that the one-kilometre road stretch on the Jawaharlal Nehru Marg, in front of the Rajasthan University, was a fine course and the ideal weather at this time of the season in these parts would help the walkers achieve good timings.

Olympic finalist Sriram Singh was also delighted that the event was being hosted in Jaipur.

The foreign coach of the Indian walking team, Alexander Artsybashev assured that there would be more new faces emerging from the championship, and expressed confidence that India would be able to field a full complement of three each in the 20km and 50km events apart from three women in the 20km event.

'Beginning of a journey'

One of the judges — Pierce Callaghan from Ireland — said that India was an emerging force in race walking, and was getting ready to strike a medal in the Olympics or World Championship. “Only four or five countries in the world are able to field nine walkers in the Olympics,” said Callaghan, even as he pointed out the prospects opening up for the rest following the suspension of Russia, a super power in athletics.

One of the Indian coaches, Dr. Ramakrishna Gandhi, stressed that there was healthy rivalry with the conduct of training camps in different centres under different coaches, leading to the standards improving. The Olympics qualified walkers — Gurmeet Singh, Sandeep Singh, Manish Singh Rawat, Baljinder Singh, Chandan Singh and Khushbir Kaur (local girl Sapana was not present at the press conference) — were confident of doing well and expressed their faith in the coaches.

As Callaghan stressed, “it will be the beginning of a journey.” Coach Arstybashev has already chalked out the competition and training programme for the next few months for the qualified walkers.

It includes an 80-day preparation stint in Spala, Poland, the land of Robert Korzeniowski, who won both the 20km and 50km gold medals in the Sydney Olympics in 2000. There was a level-1 course for 30 race judges from across the country, and some of them would be attempting to make it to Olympics and World Championships in due course of time.

The 20km walk will start at 6.30 a.m. on Saturday, and the 50km is scheduled for 6 a.m. start on Sunday. About 120 walkers from 14 States and the Services will compete in the men’s, women’s and junior (10 km) events.