KOCHI:Till Saturday, all that racewalker K Ganapathy (26) earnestly dreamed was to make the Rio Olympic cut. The havildar with Madras Regimental Centre, who is making ends meet with a bank loan, moved a step closer to his dream at the Jaipur National Open Race Walking Championships, where he covered the 20km distance in 1:21:52.
He finished behind Uttarakhand’s Gurmeet Singh, who had already met the qualification requirement. A total of seven walkers dipped under the Olympic qualifying mark of 1:24:00. Of them, four attained the feat for the first time. Eventually, three will travel to Rio.
Hailing from Goundanur in Krishnagiri district, Ganapathy’s family literally had a hand-to-mouth existence and depended solely on the jawan’s salary for survival. During this time, Ganapathy was included in the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS), which he thought would take care of his requirements. But TOPS failed to cater to his needs and the athlete had to resort to other means. A bank loan of Rs 2 lakh with contributions from friends ensured that the training went ahead.
Ganapathy described the achievement as a ‘dream come true’. But few knew the hardship he went through to reach his goal. With a salary of Rs 20,000, he found the going tough. The cost of performing at the top level was something he could not afford.
“It has been a tough journey. With my salary, I can’t even buy a pair of walking shoes. A reasonable brand will cost a minimum Rs 12,000. One pair will last two months and if I carry on with damaged shoes, injuries are inevitable. I had no money and I couldn’t risk injury. God knows how I’ve come this far,” he told Express from Jaipur.
“At times, I was so cash-strapped that I borrowed from home when I went back after vacations. After I took the loan, things became more difficult. Each month the bank deducted Rs 5,000 from my salary,” Ganapathy added. He felt that if promises made to him during the signing of TOPS had been fulfilled, it would have kept him in good stead. “Diet, supplements, jersey...It’s very expensive. Sports ministry officials said once I am under TOPS, I will be entitled to monthly allowance as well as kit and training overseas. Nothing has happened. I’m fighting alone.” Ganapathy’s timing is the second best so far among the seven Indians who have qualified for Rio. He felt he can do better and book his place for Rio. “I was aiming at 1:21:30 here but couldn’t achieve that. Now I’ve two major competitions coming up – Asian Championship in March and World Cup in May. Hopefully, I’ll be part of the squad. I’m preparing to clock 1:20 in upcoming events. If I attain that, I can ensure a ticket to Rio,” he added.