CHENNAI: These are crucial days for race walkers. Unlike other disciplines, they have only two events to secure qualification for the World Championships in September. With one of those — 6th Open National Race Walking Championship — beginning today, top Indian walkers are hoping to erase the ghosts of Asian Games where KT Irfan, Manish Rawat and Baby Soumya were disqualified due to a technical violation (loss of contact). Soumya was disqualified at the Commonwealth Games also. Irafan too had a poor 2018 as he was sent back from Gold Coast for breaching the ‘no-needle’ policy.
Things have not been smooth for most of the walkers, who will be participating in their first proper competition since Jakarta. The fate of foreign coach Alexander Artsybashev is yet to be decided after his contract expired in September. The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and athletes are saying that he will join soon. In the absence of the Russian, the national campers have been training under national coach Harminder Singh. But with the season set to start, walkers like Irfan are not tensed about qualifying.
“The aim is to bag a medal here. Then we can go to the Asian Race Walking Championship in Nomi City (Japan) in March and secure the qualification mark (1:22:30 for men and 1:33:30 for women in 20km) there. This is the first race since Asian Games and I don’t want to be worried about timings. Coach Harminder has helped us a lot. But I would prefer Alexander joining us as soon as possible. He is very good with techniques and the more time we get under him before the World Championships, the better,” Irfan told this daily.
Soumya too stressed the need for Alexander to return as soon as possible. However, the women’s national record holder in 20km praised the work done by Harminder. After two disqualifications (CWG & AG), she has made it a priority to work on the technical aspect. “I am a little worried as this is the first meet since Asiad. I have been concentrating on my technique since and Harminder sir has been helpful. But Alexander being here would have made things easier as we don’t have much time,” said Soumya.
Since November, the walkers have been training in Patiala and they shifted base to Bengaluru in the last week of January. The change in climate will play a huge role as far as results here are concerned according to Irfan. His compatriot and Rio Olympian Ganapathi Krishnan agreed. “I am looking to bag a medal here and take it from there. It would be nice if the temperature drops. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be trying to qualify for the World Championships. We are racing after a long time and a lot of it depends on the climate,” said Ganapathi.