MANGALURU: If there is any track event where India can be ranked alongside the elites, it is race-walking. Despite fetching four slots in the 2012 London Olympics — all three walkers in the 20km made the cut clearing ‘A’ qualifying mark — walking has more or less remained on the periphery.
Even in the run-up to the 2016 Rio Olympics, things are no different. Till date, five walkers have qualified and one or two slots are further expected, yet the walkers saw no token of appreciation coming their way.
The words of Gurmeet Singh, the first Indian to qualify for the Rio gala, conveyed this sense of desperation. “Everyone, including the media, has failed us. It’s been a while that we have qualified, yet, has anyone taken our names? Outside the training centres, our names barely ring a bell,” he told Express.
The 29-year-old from Uttarakhand said even his home state failed to acknowledge his effort. “You have to knock on the doors and prompt the people to appreciate you. If we win medals, they come asking what you want and what you are lacking. But what happens to us before that? No one is interested to know,” he said.
Likewise, Sandeep Kumar is waiting for the cash award the Haryana government had announced for his participation in the Incheon Asian Games, wherein he finished fourth. Currently training in Portugal under national chief coach Alexander Artsybashev, Sandeep said whenever he gets phone calls from India, he attends them thinking it would be some bureaucrat asking him to collect the cash. “At first I thought like that. Maybe, someone from the government is calling to inform me where to receive the money. But now, it seems unlikely. Such an approach hurts me,” a heavy-hearted Sandeep said from Portugal.
With frustrations running high, they have to put in extra effort to make sure their performance doesn’t get affected. “While training, we are always told that the mind should be free of every other thought. It’s imperative to train with a single motive. But when the thought of the family and their financial condition creeps into the mind, it’s difficult at times to flush it out,” Sandeep said.
Manish Rawat, who also qualified for Rio, echoed his feelings. “If we get enough attention from our state governments and other stakeholders, our confidence will increase; we can train in peace. My father died a decade ago and I have to look after the family. If there isn’t much support forthcoming, it’s natural to have conflicting thoughts running in my mind,” he said.