India's Russian racewalking coach Alexander Artsybashev has said that the Indian contingent is not just preparing for the 2017 World Championships but for the 2020 Tokyo and 2024 Los Angeles Olympics. Assistant Coach Ajay Rathi also explained how Indian athletics had come a long way since 2010.
In an exclusive interview with SportsCafe, Artsybashev and Rathi discussed how the mentality of the sport has changed in India and how despite not being the most glamorous athletic event, it has the potential to put India on the World Athletics map.
What is the reason for India's constant improvement in Racewalking?
Ajay Rathi (AR): In the last 10 years, the improvement has come because of the athletes who have retired. Also the government has started concentrating on the game event wise. Earlier, we had just 2-3 walkers in the national camps, usually the national champions, and now we have big groups of players at the camps.
Alexander Artsybashev (AA): Now we don't just put together the national team. Instead, we have created a system, since the Commonwealth Games, that we use to analyze our mistakes and we believe that this is important for development and it will give us a better chance of winning a medal.
Where do we go from here?
AR : In India, Racewalking as an event is improving continuously. In 2010 there was a medal at the Commonwealth games. At the 2012 London Games, Irfan finished 10th and managed to break the national record. Now the next generation has a target to aim for. It's not just that. We have now started to take help from foreign coaches as well. Alexander was the coach of the Russian team, who are one of the best in the world. Also, now the government is helping us getting walkers from all parts of India which helps us create competition within the team.
AA : Now we don't prepare just for the next event which is the 2017 World Championships but for the 2020 Tokyo and 2024 Los Angeles Olympics. We are now planning long-term. Earlier, we just worried about qualifying for the major events with just one or two managing to do it. Now, on a consistent basis, we have 10-15 athletes qualifying so the problem now is selection, which is a good thing.
How important is the Max Bupa national race walking championship to the development of the sport in India?
AA : This initiative started in 2012 in Patiala. It is not just a national level championship, it is an open championship with international judges.
AR : We are trying to get it affiliated with the IAAF so that it can be termed as an international event. This is the first time that Max Bupa have sponsored the event and they have teamed up with the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and the event looks like a marathon event. We have been made aware that there are some cash prizes as well for the winners so we appreciate the steps that they have taken.
Are you happy with the government's contribution to the sport?
AR : See, there is never satisfaction because when you are satisfied there is no room for improvement. Last year, they sponsored our camp in Poland before the Olympics and again this year we are going to prepare for the World Championships in an international camp. Earlier the government would sponsor just 2-3 athletes, but now we have 18 athletes training with us.
AA : We now have an elite international group training with us. 90% of the walkers have international experience having participated in the Asian and World Championships and the Olympics. In racewalking, you need an entire team to prepare together, and training individually is impossible.
The Max Bupa National racewalking Championship will take place in New Delhi on 18-19 February.