One of India’s surprisingly good performances at the 2012 London Olympics was in the men’s 20 km walk, where KT Irfan came a creditable tenth.
Four years on, the large complement of race walkers India plan to send to the Rio Games do not hold out much hope.
With just over three months left for the Olympics, they should ideally be in prime shape. But they put up a pedestrian show in the world race walking team championships held in Rome this weekend.
The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) plans to field eight walkers, including two women, in Brazil. The performances in Rome, in the first major global event of the season, should have brought out their best.
Instead, all the ten competitors in the 20 km and 50 km events, in the men’s and women’s category, plodded home. None of the five in the men’s 20 km managed a top-10 finish. Worse still, they didn’t even repeat their recent performances.
Krishnan Ganapathi was the best, finishing 22nd. He clocked a personal best of 1 hour, 21 minutes, 41 seconds.
National champion Gurmeet Singh finished 27th, clocking 1:22:04. Although it is just under the Rio qualification mark of 1:24, one will have to consistently go under 1:20 to fight for medals.
Gurmeet is an experienced walker but his performances have fluctuated in the last four months.
At the Jaipur nationals in February, he clocked 1:21:24. Three weeks later at the Asian meet in Japan, he returned 1:20:29. But Gurmeet has been unpredictable in major international meets since he began competing at that level in 2012.
Among the other three, Manish Singh and Sandeep Kumar finished down the order while Devender Singh was disqualified.
In the women’s 20 km, the promising Khushbir Kaur quit the race at the halfway mark. The Punjab athlete, who won silver at the Incheon Asian Games, was nowhere near her personal best of 1:31:40 set in 2014.
Khushbir has been nursing an injury and her performance in the global meet indicates she hasn’t recovered. At the Jaipur nationals, she had clocked 1:34:52.70.
Priyanka finished a distant 72nd, clocking1:40:04. She was third at the Jaipur nationals, but was sent to Rome after the second-placed Sapna Poonia withdrew from the world meet.
In Rio, the women walkers will have to clock under 1:26 to be contenders.
The story was the same in the men’s 50 km race. Of the three entered, only Jitendra Singh completed the race, finishing 27th. Basant Bahadur Rana was disqualified at the 30-km mark while Chandan Singh quit at that point.
Russian coach Alexander Artsybashev has been training the national team for a long time and it remains to be seen whether the AFI will fix responsibility.
The federation’s secretary-general, CV Valson, admitted the performances were not satisfactory, but he said he was yet to speak to the coach about the sudden dip in performances.
India finished seventh in the men’s 20 km team ranking.