Gurmeet Singh: First Indian to top the Asian 20 km Race Walk Championships

Gurmeet Singh surely means business when he attends to unfinished business. Having won silver in the Asian 20km Walking Championship in Nomi in 2012 and a bronze medal each in the next two years, he was disappointed to finish ninth and well outsid

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His winning time of 1:20:29 is his best time in four years since he claimed the National Record and is a clear indication that he is on the road to his stated desire of competing for a medal at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro later in 2016. His monk-like aptitude for solitude and rigorous training finally seemed to have paid dividends.

Staying in a different quarter to his wife and training partner Deepmala Devi – a national record holder in her own right – to be able to focus sharply, heading to the dining table at the SAI Regional Centre Mess to have breakfast all by himself, walking from Mumbai to Delhi to promote awareness about his sport have all been worth it.

Yet, a few years ago, Gurmeet Singh was on the verge of giving up the sport that he so loves. The 20km race walker from Uttarakhand had been labelled reluctant, insincere and lacking in focus. It seemed inevitable that he was not part of the Indian team at the Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi. He was battling an inability to raise the bar – or stop the clock inside an hour and 25 minutes.

Truth to tell, Gurmeet Singh appeared to be a fish out of water at National Institute of Sports (NIS), Patiala, and longed to be away from the hustle and bustle at the camp. He pursued and persuaded Ramakrishnan Gandhi, a former national-level walk competitor, to give up imparting academic lessons to NIS diploma students and become his coach at the SAI Regional Centre in Bangalore.

There was no looking back after that.

Within weeks of starting out in 2011, Ramakrishnan Gandhi’s trainee was in a different space, realising his potential. He found his own space and with a lot of flexibility in training, he regained the drive. The enhanced focus on endurance and technical aspects like arm movement and stride length in three intensive months saw Gurmeet lower the National record by nearly three minutes.

Coming on the back of National Championship win in Jaipur last month in a time of 1:21:24, the victory at the Asian Championship meant that Gurmeet Singh virtually booked his ticket to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro later this year ahead of many of his team-mates. He has some unfinished business to attend.

He had faded away in the second half of the 2012 Olympic race to finish 33rd but some months ago, he scribbled 1:18 on a wall in his room at the SAI Regional Centre, Bangalore. He reckons it is a time which will see him jostling for a medal at the Olympics. For someone who, at the turn of the decade, was branded as lacking in focus, Gurmeet Singh has sure come a long way.

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