Uttarakhand's Gurmeet Singh turned out to be the winner as a record number of seven Indian 20km race walkers bettered the Rio Olympics qualifying standards on a fast Jaipur course in the National Championships on Saturday. (Read more sports stories here)
While the Rio Olympics qualifying time was set at one hour and 24 minutes, Gurmeet clocked 1:21:24.57 to clinch the gold on the first day of the National Championships. Tamil Nadu's K Ganapathi and Haryana's Sandeep Kumar finished second and third in 1:21:51.43 and 1:21:56.81 respectively.
National record holder K T Irfan (1:22:14.02) of Kerala, Manish Singh (1:22:18.89) of Uttarakhand, Devender Singh (1:22:40.60) of Haryana and Neeraj (1:23:34.02), also of Haryana, were the other four outside a podium finish but who still went past the Rio Games qualifying time.
Ganapathi, Irfan, Devender and Neeraj were the four race walkers who crossed the Rio Games qualifying standard while Gurmeet, Sandeep and Manish have done so last year.
Now, there is a problem of plenty as only three athletes from a country will be allowed to take part in the Olympics in a particular event and nine Indians have crossed the Olympics qualifying time in men's 20km race walk, though two of them - Manish and Sandeep - have done so in both 20km and 50km events.
Manish and Sandeep may opt for 50km race walk as it's their main event. But still, the Athletics Federation of India will have to decide later on the three race walkers out of these nine -- or seven if Manish and Sandeep opt for 50km event -- for the Rio Games.
Out of the other two already qualified race walkers, Baljinder Singh of Punjab finished at eighth place with a time of 1:26:34.07.
Chandan Singh, who have also qualified for Rio Games last year, dropped out of the 20km race walk event as he wants to compete in the 50km event to be held tomorrow.
With the four men's 20km race walkers crossing the Rio Olympics qualifying standard, the number of Indian race walkers who made the cut for Rio Games have swelled to 11 (with two from women's 20km event).
In the women's 20km event, national record holder Khushbir Kaur (Punjab), who have already qualified for Rio Olympics, easily clinched the gold despite walking with pain on her right leg from the 11km mark. She clocked 1:34:52.70, which her coach Alexander Artsybashev described as her best ever timing in India, to win the race but he had to limp out of the finishing line due to pain.
Local girl Sapna, who have also qualified for Rio Games, finished second in 1:36:59.36, while Priyanka of Uttar Pradesh was third in 1:40:58.93.
No other woman race walker qualified for Rio Olympics from today's competition, besides the already qualified Khushbir and Sapna.
The Olympics qualifying standard for women's 20 km race walk stands at 1:36.00.