Four years ago, KT Irfan was the cynosure of India’s athletics contingent at the 2012 London Olympics after finishing a creditable tenth in the 20km race walk with a national record effort. His performance is supposed to have revolutionised the discipline in the country.
Four years on, the armyman is down and out, and on the verge of missing the cut for the Rio Olympics. He is ranked fourth in the country and only the top three will get to go. All four have clocked under the entry standard of 1:24:00.
Despite the odds being stacked against him, he is hopeful. To prove his worth, he needs to compete in an international meet before the deadline of July 11. “There are two race walk events in June. If I get the opportunity to compete in one, I will improve my national ranking,” he said.
Irfan is awaiting the federation’s response and is currently training in Bengaluru. Gurmeet Singh is leading the field while Ganapathi K is placed second and Devender Singh is third.
It’s a catch-22 situation for the 26-year-old. If he doesn’t get a chance to improve his ranking before the deadline, he might have to wait and will get a chance only if one of the top three drops out due to a below par performance.
After his heroic efforts on the streets of London in 2012 Olympics, Irfan, who hails from Kerala, had a disappointing 2013 season.
During the IAAF 20km race walking challenge at Taicang, China, he finished fifth. At the Moscow world athletics, the national record holder was disqualified at the 15km mark.
But 2014 was the worst. Barely five weeks before the Incheon Asian Games, Irfan had to compete in the trials to earn a place in the national team as the athletics federation (AFI) refused to consider his number one ranking. In fact, rivalry between the coaches prompted AFI to conduct the trials.
Irfan was then coached by Gurdev Singh while foreigner Alexander Artsybashev and Ram Kishan Gandhi were the other two coaches.
Irfan dominated the test event, but suffered a minor injury in the foot. The national record holder said racing hard a month before the main event affected his tempo. At Incheon, he finished fourth after aggravating the injury in the closing stages.
“There is need for proper planning,” he said, pointing to his not peaking for the Asian Games.
Irfan’s coach Gurdev Singh said, “It was a big setback as the injury continued to haunt him for the next 18 months.”
Though he made a comeback in February, competing in the national race walk championship at Jaipur, he finished overall sixth. But his performance met the Rio mark of 1:24.
Gurmeet is training at home under Gandhi while Devender and Ganapathi are training in Poland under Artsybashev.