THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Under a blazing sun, finishing off a 126 kilometre race on hot wheels and netting a gold, Haryana's Pankaj Kumar was once again proving his mettle in conquering long-distance on cycle. Beginning his yellow metal hunt in the 35th National Games, this 24-year-old man was retaining his own record of covering the longest distance, for he came first in the previous edition of the Games in the 80 kilometre event back in 2011.
This was much to the delight of Pankaj and team Haryana as he was just back after putting up a dismal show in the 36 kilometre individual time trial road race only a day before.
Clocking 03:22:04.471 hrs, he pushed behind Karnataka's N Lokesh (second) and Maharashtra's Abhinandan Bhosale.
“Top riders were part of many teams, giving a stiff competition compared to Ranchi (2011 Games venue),” he says. Sweating from head to toe after a taxing race, he does not complain.
“The weather is so good here compared to Haryana, where it is extremely cold.” Yet he had tested the waters before taking a plunge. Pankaj arrived here a week before the start of the Games and underwent many trials along the Kovalam-Enchakkal stretch where the competition was conducted. “He did it six to seven times,” says coach Rajesh Kaushik says.
The coach says the Haryana government has been so supportive of the athletes and in nurturing their talents. Every year, Pankaj has been receiving cash awards for his outstanding performances. He holds a Masters' in Physical Education from Kurukshetra University as well.