At the conclusion of the men's 20km race walk in the 6th Open National Race Walking Championship on Saturday, KT Irfan emerged triumphant with a timing of 1:26:18 seconds, one second earlier than his opponents. Haryana's Devender Singh and Sandeep Kumar finished with a timing of 1:26:19 seconds.
KT Irfan was a relieved man for multiple reasons, with surely one of them being victorious in the finish that saw the top three separated by just a second at the 6th Open National Race Walking Championship. The 29-year-old from Kerala who first made his mark when he finished tenth in the 2012 London Olympics won the race with a record timing of 1:26:18 seconds.
While it wasn't at all smooth-sailing for Irfan as he failed to meet the qualification mark of 1:22:30 seconds for the World Championships in Doha in September last year, he feels it was never a realistic target given the city's humid conditions. Instead, one of India's leading race walkers will be looking to make the Worlds cut when he takes part in the Asian Race Walking Championships at Nomi, Japan in the upcoming month.
"I am not at all disappointed with my performance here. The humidity is very high in Chennai. My target was to win gold and not the timing. It is not possible to get the timing required for the World Championships in these conditions. I will be participating in the Asian Race Walking Championships next month. I am confident of achieving the timing for Worlds through that tournament. It will be cold in Japan at this time of the year, which is ideal for us. I had won bronze during the 2017 edition,” Irfan was quoted as saying to TOI.
Perhaps, most importantly, Irfan can now put 2018 -"the worst year" of his life - behind him in every aspect. With finishing 13th in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games last year before being sent home from Australia after a syringe was found in his and triple jumper Rakesh Babu's room, which was in violation of the "no-needle" policy that was firmly in place, to then being disqualified from the Asian Games in Jakarta on technical grounds, his year went from bad to worse.
"The Commonwealth Games and Asian Games were very difficult. I was very disturbed last year. But I am back now. I want to win a medal in the World Championships in Doha. That is the target," claimed Irfan.
While Irfan is adamant about his innocence in the syringe controversy, he feels the unpleasant episode has made him even more careful about such matters, due to the struggles he faced after that whole story.
"The needle controversy wasn't my mistake at all. They found a needle in the bag of my roommate and we still don't know how it was there. I have taken part in so many international competitions and I know these things are not allowed. But yes, I am more careful now. There was a lot of negative coverage. When I returned home to my town of Areekode, I was vilified there too. I couldn't explain my side of the story to everyone," he concluded.
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