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Uttarakhand is the new force reckon with in race walking

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By Navneet Singh

New Delhi, Feb 8 (IANS) Uttrakhand athletes have stamped their authority in endurance events of 36th National Junior Athletics Championships in Guwahati by winning as many as five medals in the race walking events so far.

After a dominant performance on Sunday, when the 2018 Youth Olympics silver medallist Suraj Panwar won gold in under-20 category and his teammate Reshma Patel claimed under-18 girls’ title hands down, Uttarakhand athletes continued their brilliant run by claiming three more medals on Monday. Aditya Negi won bronze in under-18 category, and Himanshu Kumar and Babendra Singh Negi won silver and bronze in the under-16 boys’ category to continue a glorious run.

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This medal tally could go up on Tuesday, when the girls’ under-16 race walking events takes place.

This performance by Uttarakhand athletes wasn’t unexpected. Going by the results of the previous editions of the national meet, held in Guntur, athletes from Uttarakhand won seven medals in three age-categories, indicating huge depth in the field. The state team had won several medals at the 2018-19 edition of the National School Games, held in Sangrur, Punjab, highlighting the surge in the discipline.

“Almost all the athletes who we had fielded in the race walking events in Guntur in 2019 had medals around their neck. There were one or two who missed the podium finish but lost bronze medals by narrow margins,” Uttarakhand athletics team coach Anoop Bisht, who is overseeing training of half a dozen race walkers, including Panwar and Reshma, told IANS.

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What’s the reason for Uttrakhand to throw up a supplyline of quality race walkers, displacing Haryana and Punjab, the two dominant states in the recent events?

“The generation next has been inspired by the success of Olympian Manish Rawat, who had finished 13th in the men’s 20km race walk event at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games,” said Anoop.

“Coming from the high-altitude district Chamoli, Rawat’s success story is an inspiring one. He was a sort of catalyst for youngsters of Uttarakhand. As he also landed a job in the sports quota in the state police department, that too serves as an inspiration — that good athletes can get jobs as well,” said Gopal Bisht, physical education teacher from Chamoli.

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Gopal has a group of athletes, including Paramjeet Singh Bisht, who had won bronze in the Youth Asian Championships in 2019. Chamoli, in fact, is one of the pockets in Uttarakhand that has been producing good athletes in race walking.

“Since we don’t have good tracks to use running spikes, youngsters either opt for distance running or race walking,” explained Gopal.

Praveen Purohit, another athletics coach from Dehradun whose athletes have had a fine success rate in race walking events recently, also attributed local environment for good results.

“The climate in the region is good for distance running. It doesn’t get too hot in the summer in the Doon Valley. Moreover, most of the athletes aren’t strong and big physically to take up throwing events. Majority of them have lean and thin frames, best suited for endurance events,” said Purohit.

Former international athlete and national coach Gurdev Singh blames the decline of states like Haryana and Punjab in race walking due to lack of good coaches.

“Race walking is very technical event. If fundamentals aren’t strong chances are that athletes wouldn’t progress on expected lines. It will take time for a good batch of athletes to come up. Some of the young athletes from Punjab, like former junior national champion Akashdeep Singh, have graduated to the senior level. They will take time to perform in the senior group while new crop of athletes would take three to four years to make an impression at the national level,” said Singh Patiala.

–IANS

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