India’s Bhawna Jat said it was a dream come true as she achieved the qualification mark for Tokyo Olympics in the 20km race walk event after an unexpected win with a national record time at the National Championships in Ranchi on Saturday.
The 23-year-old athlete, who hails from a farmer’s family at Kabra village in Rajasthan’s Rajsamand district, clocked 1 hour 29 minutes and 54 seconds, well inside the Olympic qualification time of 1:31:00, to win the gold.
Bhawna’s effort was a massive improvement of more than eight minutes from her personal best of 1:38.30s set in October last year during the National Open Championships.
She had, however, clocked 1:36:17s in 20km race walk event during the All India Inter-Railway Athletics Championships in August last year in Pune, which was competed on track.
“It’s a dream come true. I was doing in the range of 1:27:00s during training and so I knew that if the conditions are all right I would be able to breach this Olympic qualifying mark of 1:31:00s,” Bhawna who is currently a Train Ticket Examiner in Indian Railways, posted in Kolkata, told PTI.
“It was pure hard work in the last few months with my coach that I am being able to come up with this kind of performance,” said Bhawna, who trains on the road around the Sawai Man Singh Satdium in Jaipur.
She trains on her own in Jaipur with her coach Gurmukh Sihag and has not taken part in any international event in junior or senior level. She also has never been in a national camp under the Athletics Federation of India, reported PTI.
She began her senior career in 2016 during the National Inter-State Championships in Hyderabad where she finished fifth with a time of 1:52:38s. Saturday’s win was just her second such achievement in a national meet after the National Open in Ranchi last year.
Her coach Gurmukh said that Bhawna has given her dope sample, which means that her national record will be valid. An AFI offcial also said that dope sample collectors from the National Anti-Doping Agency have taken samples from the athletes.
Bhawna is now hoping to be included in the government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme.
“It is very difficult to compete at the senior level with a meagre income. I have to look after my parents and think about my training as well. I am hoping that I will be included in the Target Olympic Podium Scheme to be able to train properly for the Olympics,” she added.
Bhawana said she faced a lot of financial difficulties during her early career.
“My father is a small farmer and my mother a housewife. I have one older and one younger brother and it was very difficult to run the family from my father’s meagre income. I took up the Railways jobs only to help my father. It is very difficult for me to pursue athletics,” she said.
Asked about her goal in the Tokyo Olympics, she said, “In 2016 Rio, the gold was won in 1:28:35s and bronze in 1:28:42s. So, if I make further improvement of a minute or so I can be in medal contention, you never know. I feel I can improve up to 1:27:00s in Tokyo. In any case, I will be happy if I finish in the top 10.”
She attributed her performance to hard work under coach Gurmukh.
“I began athletics in 2010 and my physical education teacher told me to try race walking. I took it up and from there, I took part in the school nationals. After that I was at the SAI Bangalore under the government scheme,” said Bhawana, who is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree through correspondence.
Bhawna’s next competition will be the Asian Race Walk Championships in Japan on March 15.
Priyanka Goswami narrowly missed the Olympic cut with a timing of 1:31.36s to win the silver in the 17-athlete field.
The earlier national record of 1:31:29s stood in the name of Delhi’s Baby Soumya made during the National Race Walk Championships in New Delhi in 2018.
In the men’s 20km Race Walk event, Sandeep Kumar of Services won the gold with a time of 1 hour 21 minutes and 34 seconds. He narrowly missed the Tokyo Olympics qualification time of 1:21:00s.
“I will try to further improve my timing if selected for the Asian Race Walk Championships next month in Japan and try to qualify for Tokyo Olympics,” he said.
KT Irfan (men’s 20km race walk), Avinash Sable (men’s 3000m steeplechase), mixed 4x400m relay team and Neeraj Chopra (men’s javelin) have already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics from athletics.
(With PTI inputs)