Haryana’s international athletes Sandeep Kumar and Rahul Kumar in the men’s event and Uttar Pradesh’s Priyanka Goswami in the women’s category won the 2021 Olympic Games quota places in the 20km event of the eighth National Race Walking Championships held in Ranchi on Saturday.
It was double joy for both Sandeep and Priyanka, as they broke the national record.
On his way to winning gold, the 34-year-old Sandeep clocked one hour 20 minutes and 16 seconds to crack the Olympic qualification time of 1:21 minutes. Rahul, 34, too, bettered the Olympic qualification time, crossing the finish line at 1:20.26 to clinch silver and become the second male athlete in Saturday’s event to book a berth for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
It also turned out to be a memorable day for Priyanka. The 24-year-old international athlete from Uttar Pradesh crossed the line with a time of one hour 28 minutes 45 seconds, which was better than the Olympic qualification time of one hour 31 minutes for women. It was her season’s best performance and a national record of 1:29.54, set last year by Bhawana Jat of Rajasthan.
On Saturday, Bhawana, who had qualified for the Tokyo Olympics last year, finished second in the race with a time of 1:32.59. Sonal Sukhwal of Rajasthan finished third in 1:36.05.
With three individual athletes winning Olympic quota place on Saturday, the tally of qualifiers in race walking events has increased to five.
In 2019, Olympian KT Irfan (20km) was the first Indian athlete to achieve the Olympic qualification time in the Asian Championship, held in Nomi, Japan. His fourth place finish time of 1:20.57 was inside the qualification time of 1:21 minutes. On Saturday, however, Irfan quit the race at 19km mark.
Both Sandeep and Priyanka had missed the Olympic qualification last year by a narrow margin of 34 seconds and 36 seconds, respectively.
“The early morning weather was pleasant. It worked in our favour to go out at steady pace from the start,” said coach Gurmeet Singh.
The coach said: “The next step was to sustain the efforts over the distance of 20km. Kumar clocked 19 minutes 45 seconds for the opening 5km of the race. He reached the half-way mark in 39 minutes 27 seconds.”
At 15km, the eventual winner’s time was 59 minutes 41 seconds. In the last 5km he was able to maintain a steady pace to cross the finish line in 1 hour 20.16 minutes.
Sandeep’s efforts earned him a ticket to Olympics with a national record. It was also his personal best.
Rahul, who was also successful in his attempt to win Tokyo Olympic berth, gave a good account of his endurance. He was neck and neck with Kumar till the 15km. At that point, Sandeep surged ahead to open up a small gap. The gap widened as the race progressed.
In the women’s 20km race, it was start to finish affair for Priyanka as she hardly faced any resistance from Rajasthan’s Bhawana Jat, who had won Tokyo Olympic quota place last year. She set up a blistering pace covering the first 5km in 21 minutes 27 secs. She was impressive at the halfway mark clocking 43 minutes 31 seconds for 10km.
“At that point of the race I told her to maintain her pace for the second half of the race,” the coach said in the post race interaction.
Priyanka clocked 1:05.58 for 15km and 1:28.45 for 20km.
“Both Sandeep and Priyanka wanted to compete in Sunday’s 35km event introduced for the first time, but declined to participate after a good show on Saturday,” revealed the coach.