Two of the country's premier race-walkers talk on a wide spectrum of topics in a no-holds barred interview.
One of India’s top race walker Khushbir Kaur is confident to break her own record at the upcoming National Race Walking Championships in the 50 km, 20 km and 10 km categories to be held in Delhi on February 18-19.
“I am confident I will break my national record this time. I am completely fit and my training is going on full-swing. However, my coach will make the final call of my participation in the event,” Khusbir Kaur said in an exclusive interview to The Statesman in New Delhi on Friday.
Hailing from a small village Rasalpur in Amritsar, the 23-year-old athlete became the first Indian woman to win a medal in race walking as she clinched the sensational silver at the 2014 Asian Games 20km race walk in Incheon.
So how did she choose the lesser known sport race walking?
“When I was young, I used to take long and quick walks to lose weight as I remember being heavy. That is all how I started the sport. My mom was always a sports enthusiast, so she helped me pursue race walking,” Khushbir recalls her love-affair with the sport.
The transition from a small village girl to an Olympian was not an easy stride as she had to endure financial battles during the early days of her career. Being the first in her village to travel abroad and conquer medals in prestigious international events, Khushbir agrees to not understand the significance of being an ‘Olympian’ till she took part in the most celebrated event.
“I had no idea about sports when I got a chance to participate in Singapore’s 5000m walk in 2010. After winning medal in the Asian Games, I realised I can be a part of the Rio Olympics 2016 although I did not understand the significance of being selected for the Olympics. I just continued with my training and finally got selected for the Olympics,” Khushbir said.
Khushbir finished 54th at the 20 km walk in the Rio Olympics 2017 as she clocked 1:40:33.
In a cricket-crazy nation, Khusbhir decided to take the road less travelled by choosing a non-glamorous and well-disciplined sport which requires one foot to be in contact with the ground at all circumstances. So, are people aware of the sport in India? “Before 2010, people did not know race walking existed in India but when Harminder Singh won a medal in 2010 Commonwealth Games, people started recognising the sport,” the Olympian said.
She hailed the government for providing her “ample support and all the necessities required for training like nutritional support, physio and providing the Indian race walkers with a Russian coach”.
However, being a sportsman can be a tough row to hoe at times. “It is difficult being in sports as it requires a lot of desires to be sacrificed like avoiding spicy food or hanging out and about with friends. We need proper diet and rest. We always need to keep our physio updated about our nutritional diet,” Khushbir said.
In a similar story another Olympian and race walker Manish Rawat expresses confidence in making the sport more popular in India as he put in long hours of training for the upcoming Nationals.
“Before 2010, the existence of the sport in India was hard to believe. Around 7-8 players nowadays qualify for the international events. So, the sport is finally gaining momentum in the country,” Manish said.
The National Race Walking Championships to be held in Delhi is organised by the Athletics Federation of India in partnership with Max Bupa Health Insurance. The organisers on Thursday announced a prize money of Rs.4 lakhs for the winners of the race in each category.