Irfan Kolothum Thodi retained his men’s 20 km national racewalk title by finishing in a time of 1:21:31.25 in a photo-finish to the fifth National Racewalking Championships held in Delhi on the 17th and 18th of February.

His room-mate at SAI Bengaluru and training partner Manish Singh Rawat finished second, close behind. The 2016 Olympian, who finished 13th in Rio, was less than a second behind and trailed Irfan by 0.47 of a second.

This race was a long time in the making, featuring and pitting India’s most successful racewalkers against each other at the last two Olympics, against each other. It was Irfan KT, who had initially bought race-walking to the spotlight by finishing 10th at the 2012 Olympics, setting the national record in London.

In conditions which were close to ideal for racewalking, the athletes started at one end of Vinay Marg in sub-20 degrees temperatures on a straight road, as opposed to yesterday’s track at the JLN Stadium.

The 28-year-old Irfan had known that unlike the last year, where Manish Rawat had not taken part, that this would be a tougher race to clinch. And so it proved at the very end, where there was little to separate the two walkers.

Looking forward to a better 2018

After having set a lofty mark in London, Irfan had struggled to regain that form post London. In 2014, he suffered a stress fracture which had held him back in his preparations for Rio, “I tried to recover from it and I have a good showing but I was still fourth in the timings list and hence I was not selected for the Olympics.”

“Now that I have qualified, I can look forward to doing well in the upcoming Commonwealth Games. No, we don’t have any rivalry going between us and we don’t fight,” he replied in a light manner, when asked about being room-mates with a fierce competitor.

For Irfan, this year’s target has been set at 1 hour 19 minutes and 30 seconds, almost 51 seconds off his own national record. Rawat reckoned that anything under 1 hour and 20 minutes should be enough for a medal at the Asian Games.

“The mark for me, this year will be to go under 1:20:00. This was my biggest competition till date after Rio 2016. Hence, it was important for me to post a good time,” said Rawat while analysing his performance.

He was scheduled to take part in last year’s nationals but coach Alexander Artsybashev had prevented him from doing so, owing to a hectic workload.

The Athletic Federation of India’s selection committee will meet on Monday to decide the racewalking teams for the Asian 20 km racewalking meet in March, the Commonwealth Games in April and the IAAF Racewalking Championships in Taicang to be held in May.