The first day of the fifth National Racewalking championships ended with Sandeep Kumar retaining his 50 km title while Priyanka Patel broke the national record in winning the Under-20 girls 10 km walk.

The event, which began in New Delhi on Saturday, will also serve as a qualifying event for the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. The 50 km walk will not be a part of the CWG. The cut-off for the Asian Games for the 50-km walk is four hours and six minutes.

The men’s 50 km, the main attraction on day one, saw defending champion Sandeep Kumar of Haryana retain his crown by finishing in a time of 3:56:39.71. He was just shy of his national record of 3 hours, 55 minutes and 59.05 seconds, which he had set at last year’s championships.

Overall, four men in the 50-km walk finished within the Asian Games cut-off as Services’ Jitendra Singh Rathore finished second with a time of 3:58:55.82. Haryana’s Damen Singh came third, completing the 50-km walk in 4:00:00.48.

Sandeep Kumar and three other 50 km walkers had quit the national camp, under coach Alexander Artsybashev, in Bengaluru and decided to train under Services’ coach Surender Kumar in Patiala.

When asked about this decision, Sandeep Kumar said, “I had to leave the training of the foreign coach because I didn’t agree with his style of coaching. So I have started training in Patiala. It isn’t the best place to train because of the cold but I am satisfied with my peformance.”

The 31-year-old added, “My goal is to do well at the World Race Walking Team championships. I can improve on my peformance there. I could have finished with an even higher time if I got better competition. When you compete with top level competitors, you automatically improve your own timing. In the Olympics, you have a motorcycle that sets the pace and that also helps.”

The World Race Walking Team Championships will be held at Taicang, China in May, and that will also determine the Athletics Federation of India’s team selections for the 50-km walk at the Asian Games to be held in August later this year.

Priyanka Patel of Uttar Pradesh won the Under-20 women’s 10 km event, setting a national record with a time of 49:01.81. She wiped out the 2004 record of Priyanka Goswami with a time of 49:16.51. Uttar Pradesh’s Bandana Patel and Ramandeep Kaur of Punjab finished second and third respectively.

The 19-year-old also announced that it would be her last race in the U-20 age category, “This is a very significant race for me because it is the last time I will compete in the U-20 events. I will compete in the Federation Cup in the women’s 20km walk. I have won many race walk tournaments but I have never had a chance to compete outside the country. My goal is to compete at the Commonwealth and Asian Games.”

The Federation Cup is due to be held from March 5 to 8 in Patiala. Akshdeep Singh of Punjab won the Under-20 men’s walk with a time of 43:04.65.

The men’s and women’s 20-km walk will be held on Sunday.