IRFAN SCORES A HAT-TRICK BUT RACE WALKERS FALL SHORT OF DOHA QUALIFYING MARK

Irfan K.T (Photo: AFI Media)

The Sixth National Open Race Walking Championships held over February 16-17 in Chennai was to serve as platform for Indian athletes to meet the qualifying time for the IAAF World Athletics Championships due later this year in Doha, Qatar.

However, none of them made the cut.

At the just concluded event in Chennai, Jitendra Singh Rathore of Rajasthan was the winner in men’s 50km race walk. He finished the race in 4:23:23 hours to secure the gold medal, ahead of Sagar Joshi of Gujarat. Sagar finished the race in 4:24:21, earning the silver medal. Haryana’s Pawan Kumar took the bronze with a timing of 4:30:49 hours, the results posted on AFI’s website said.

Jitendra Singh Rathore (Photo: courtesy Jitendra Singh)

The men’s 20km race walk was keenly contested. Kerala’s Irfan K.T took the gold covering the distance in 1:26:18. Second place went to Devender Singh of Haryana (1:26:19) while Sandeep Kumar (1:26:19), also of Haryana, finished third. It was photo finish for Devender and Sandeep. Tamil Nadu’s Ganapathi Krishnan (1:26:20) missed the podium by a whisker. While informing the results, the AFI statement of February 16 quoted Irfan as being disappointed that his effort wasn’t good enough to qualify for the world championships. He intends to try again next month at the Asian Race Walking Championships to be held in Japan.

This was the third consecutive triumph for Irfan in the discipline at the national championships.

The women’s 20km race walk was won by Soumya Baby of Kerala who clocked 1:40:25. This was well short of her national record – 1:31:29 set in February last year. Uttar Pradesh’s Priyanka finished second in 1:41:20 while the bronze medal was picked up by Haryana’s Ravina who finished in 1:41:46.

A statement from the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) on February 15 had pointed out that the qualification standard (for Doha) in the men’s 20km race walk stood at 1:22:30 (hours, minutes and seconds respectively) while the mark in the men’s 50km race was 3:59:00. The qualification standard in the women’s 20km race was set at 1:33:30.

The IAAF World Athletics Championships is scheduled to be held in Doha in September-October this year.

Soumya B (Photo: AFI Media)

According to race walkers this blog spoke to, Chennai’s heat and humidity took a toll on their performance.

“ The race was good but the heat was too much,’’ Jitendra, the gold medalist in 50km, said when contacted. His personal best is 3:58:56 hours, which he set in the National Open Race Walking Championships in New Delhi in 2018.

“ The race was tough because of the heat as well as the humidity. Normally this competition is held in Delhi or Jaipur where the weather at this time is conducive for good performance,’’ Sagar, who won silver, told this blog. His had trained for this competition with a targeted timing of 3:56 hours.

Haryana’s Sandeep Kumar, who holds the national record of 3:55:59 in the 50km race walk, set at the Indian Race Walking Championships last year, did not start the contest in that discipline, the table of results from Chennai showed. Also DNS (Did Not Start) in the 20km race walk was Manish Singh Rawat of Uttar Pradesh.

Sagar Joshi (Photo: courtesy Sagar Joshi)

Jitendra and Sagar, both of them from the Indian Army, train at the Army Sports Institute in Pune. Following the Chennai event, they headed back to Pune. According to Sagar, while it is for the AFI to take a call on sending them to the upcoming meet in Japan, as back-up plan, the athletes’ coach Basanta Bahadur Rana has suggested the option of requesting the army to send them to Japan. Basanta Bahadur Rana had represented India in race walking at the 2012 London Olympics.

At the Chennai meet, Suraj Panwar of Uttarakhand won the gold medal in the boys’ 10 km race clocking a time of 43.19 minutes. Haryana’s Juned won the silver with a timing of 43.32 minutes. The bronze medal went to Farman Ali of Uttar Pradesh; he finished in 44.50 minutes.

Among girls, Roji Patel of Uttarakhand secured gold in the 10 km race. She finished the race in 53.38 minutes. Suvarna Kapase of Madhya Pradesh secured silver with a time of 55.36 minutes and Punjab’s Gurpreet Kaur got the bronze with a time of 57.00 minutes.

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)

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