Race walkers kick off athletics campaign

Race walkers kick off athletics campaign

Seeking to improve their medal haul from the last edition, India begin their athletics campaign in the 21st Commonwealth Games with the men's and women's race walkers competing in the 20km event here on Sunday.

India had won a gold, silver and bronze in the 2014 Glasgow Games and the country's athletes are aiming to increase that haul with the likes of javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra and young high-jumper Tejaswin Shankar in impressive form.

The men's 20km race walk event was introduced in the 1998 Games while the women's 20km event was included in the 2002 CWG and the Indians are not known as a force to reckon with in these events. The only Indian to have won a medal in 20km race walk event was Harminder Singh who clinched a bronze in 2010 Delhi CWG.

The Australians have been dominating the scene in these events with the likes of England and Kenya also among the medals. The last edition in Glasgow did not have 20km race walk events.

If the Indians can maintain their performances of the National Championships in February, both men's and women's 20km race walkers cannot be ruled out of a podium finish.

If either of Soumya Baby and Khushbir Kaur wins a medal, history will be scripted as it will be the first instance of a woman walker winning a CWG medal. In fact, Indian women have a better chance to win than their male counterparts this time.

The 27-year-old Soumya from Kerala recently won gold in the National Championships with a national record timing of 1 hour 31 minutes and 28 seconds, pulling off a shock win over favourite Khushbir Kaur -- who is also competing on Saturday.

If Soumya can repeat or better her performance, she has a chance to win a medal and create history.

In a field of 13, Soumya stands at third among the season's best timings behind two Australians -- Beki Smith (1:31:23) and Jemima Montag (1:31:26). There are six athletes who have season-best timings of less than 1 hour and 32 minutes.

Among them is Claire Tallent of Australia (1:31:29), now 36, and who had won a silver in the 2010 CWG. The bronze winner of the Delhi Games, Grace Wanjiru Njue of Kenya, is also competing at 39 years of age. She has a season's best of 1:35:22.

In the men's 20km race walk, India are fielding national record holder K T Irfan and Manish Singh Rawat and they have to improve their timings drastically if they want to be on the  podium as there are four competitors who can finish in sub 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Among them are Dane Bird-Smith (SB 1:19:28) of Australia, Kenyans Samuel Ireri Gathimba (1:19:04) and Simon Wachira (1:19:06) Lebogang Shange (1:19:18) of South Africa.

Irfan and Manish have a season's best time of 1:21:31 as their first and second positions were decided after a photo finish in the National Championships.

Shot-putter Tejinder Pal Singh Toor should qualify for the finals from the qualifying round tomorrow. He had won a gold in the Federation Cup National Championships last month with a throw of 20.24m.

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