CHENNAI: The road to redemption has not been smooth for K T Irfan. Seven years ago, the race-walker finished 10th in the 20km event at London Olympics with a national record of 1.20.21.
If that raised expectations, a stress fracture in 2014 changed everything. He missed the bus to Rio Olympics in 2016 and last year, the Malappuram athlete was sent back from the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast for allegedly breaching the ‘no-needle policy’ against doping.
For someone tagged as an Olympic-medal prospect, worse followed. He was disqualified from the Asian Games for a technical fault.
The 29-year-old redeemed himself on Sunday in Japan’s Nomi City by clinching a berth for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He finished fourth in the Asian Race Walking Championship but met the qualifying mark. “I am not disappointed for not winning a medal. I came here to qualify for the World Championship in September and got a bonus. Now, I have to prove those people wrong who doubted me and thought I was finished,” Irfan told this newspaper from Japan.
“In the last two years, a lot of things went wrong. I faced situations I was not used to. It was not easy but I am slowly reaching my old level. With more hard work and proper rest, I can better it,” said Irfan, who clocked 1.20.57 on Sunday.
Hardened by experience, with time to prepare and a vital point proven, expect Irfan to put up a more determined show.
IT’s not common for an athlete to say he is not disappointed about missing out on a medal. Especially after winning something in the event previously. But sometimes, it’s not just about winning. KT Irfan had this experience on Sunday.
During the Racewalking Nationals in February, Irfan had said that he wants to seal a World Championship berth at the Asian Race Walking Championships in Japan. Irfan achieved that by finishing fourth (1.20.57) in the 20km event. But the 29-year-old exceeded expectations by becoming the first Indian track and field athlete to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
“As expected, the climate here played a huge role today. During the nationals, the humidity in Chennai was very high. Here, everything was working for me from the start,” Irfan told this newspaper from Nomi. Devinder Singh (1.21.22) and Ganapathi Krishnan (1.22.12) were the other Indians to make the Worlds cut.
With targets achieved, Irfan sounded jolly over the phone and was about to step out to go shopping when TNIE contacted him. After staying away from his family for so many days, Irfan is longing to see his two-year-old son. “Hopefully, there are no more competitions now. I can’t wait to go home and meet my son. The plan now is to take rest and be fit before the big competitions.”
Japan’s Toshikazu Yamanishi won the event with an impressive timing of 1:17:15. Kazakhstan’s Georgiy Sheiko and Korea’s Byeongkwang Choe finished second and third with timings of 1:20:21 and 1:20:40, respectively. The Asian and world record in men’s 20km race walk stands in the name of Japanese Yusuke Suzuki, who clocked 1:16:36 in the 2015 edition of the same championships in Nomi.
“Mentally, I am feeling relaxed now. It is good that I have achieved the Olympics qualification mark very early in the season. There is more than a year now to train and prepare for the Olympics,” said the athlete from Malappuram.