Walkers step it up

WalkersIndian walkers squad with coach Alexander Artsybashev (IE PHOTO/Renuka Puri)

Of the 15 Indian athletes leaving on Tuesday morning for the World Athletics Championships, there are an unprecedented six walkers, a number that heralds promise in what is viewed as an unglamorous event. K T Irfan, Gurmeet Singh, Chandan Singh and Khushbir Kaur in the 20km and Basant Bahadur Rana and Sandeep Kumar in the 50km are on the plane to Moscow.

Four years ago, Babubhai Panocha was India's lone representative at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin. Two years later in Daegu, Gurmeet Singh and Panocha competed in the 20km walk. Three walkers went to the 2012 London Olympics.

Khushbir's trip to Moscow gains significance because she is the first ever woman walker from India to participate in athletics' marquee event. Khushbir finished fourth in the Asian Walking Championships in Nomi City, Japan, to qualify for Moscow 2013.

India's half-a-dozen mark at Moscow is a reflection of the improvement made by Indian walkers even as the overall timings across the world have risen post the London Games, which in turn has resulted in qualifying standards being fractionally eased.

"The slight increase in timings among walkers across the world can be attributed to this being a post-Olympics year when athletes who peaked for the Games are only slowly getting back on track. But according to me the stringent dope testing that also resulted in an Olympic champion being banned has made the sport much cleaner and we are seeing true timings," India's Russian coach Alexander Artsybashev said on the sidelines of a training session at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi.

Artsybashev was referring to Spain's Alex Schwazer, the Beijing Olympics gold medallist in the 50km walk, who was banned ahead of the London Olympics, in which India's Irfan finished tenth and set the national record of 1:20:21s in the 20K.

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