Bhawna Jat from Rajasthan became the second Indian race walker to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after setting a new national record in 20km race walk at the 7th National Open Race Walking Championships in Ranchi on Saturday.
The 32-year-old athlete clocked 1 hour 29 minutes and 54 seconds, which is one minute less than Olympic qualification time of 1:31.00. This is her seventh National Pedestrian Championship title.
The impressive timing was a massive improvement from her earlier best of 1:38:30 at the National Open Championship in October last year. She had earlier won gold at the Inter-Railways athletics meet but managed to reduce two minutes as her employers didn't give her leave for training despite her recruitment under the sports quota.
In the 2016 nationals in Jaipur, Bhawana won silver in the 10km race for juniors. It helped her land a job in the railways under the sports quota. The job helped her financially, but the regular eight-hour shifts left very less time for her to train. The struggle continued for two years until 2018.
"I am very happy after this achievement. I worked really hard for 3-4 months, and I was confident that I would be able to break the record and qualify," The New Indian Express quoted Bhawna as saying.
Hailing from Kabra village in Rajsamand district she comes from a financially poor background, Bhawna battled several odds, from patriarchy to societal pressures on her family. "I come from an area with a regressive mindset. Villagers used to constantly tell my father that he should not send me out of the house. But my family supported me, and I want to give credit to my father, brother and the coach," she said.
Shankarlal, her father is a Jat farmer from Kabra village in Udaipur district and has only two bighas (acres) of land. While studying at a village school, Bhawna continued her preparation for the last 10 years. She had to forego higher education due to financial constraints. Bhavna nurtured her talent in walking under the direction of physical education teacher, Hiralal Kumawat.
"I will try my best. Seeing the performance timings from last Olympics, I think I might have a good chance of winning a medal. I have started practising already," she added.
"My target was 1:28:00 to 1:29:00, I really put a lot of hard work in training over the last three months," the athlete was quoted as saying by the Athletics Federation of India.
National record holder KT Irfan had become the first Indian athlete to qualify for the Olympics in March 2019 when he finished fourth in the 20km event of the Asian Race Walking Championships in Nomi, Japan.
The 2020 Olympics will be held in Tokyo from July 24 to August 9. Earlier, Sandeep Kumar of Services won the 20km men's title with a time of 1:21:34.
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