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Athletics

How Indian Army changed Sandeep Kumar's path from Farming to Olympics

Before joining the Indian Army, Sandeep did not know about racewalk; now he will represent India at the Tokyo Olympics

Indian race walker Sandeep Kumar
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Sandeep Kumar in his third Olympics at Tokyo (Source: World Athletics)

By

Naveed Mohammed

Updated: 2021-08-05T14:48:13+05:30

The Butterfly Effect describes how small changes in initial conditions of a non-linear system can have huge implications at later stages. What if the apple hadn't fallen on Isaac Newton? What if the Mughal Emperor, Jahangir, hadn't permitted the British to trade in India? What if Sandeep Kumar hadn't joined the Indian Army?

We can answer one question for sure, that Sandeep Kumar would not have been representing India at the Olympics. Sandeep will represent India alongside KT Irfan and Rahul Rohilla at the Tokyo Olympics after booking his berth by breaking the 20-km racewalk National record with a 01:20.16s.

Born in Haryana, a state known for producing world-class wrestlers, Sandeep tried his hand at the less popular racewalk, thanks to the Indian Army. Sandeep did not know racewalk existed before he joined the Jat Regiment Center in the Army.

After losing his mother at a young age, he struggled to balance school and help his father rear the cattle. Due to meager income from the farm due to inconsistent rain, Sandeep's family depended on cattle to run the household. Sandeep tried his hand at local wrestling matches called 'Dangals' to meet his basic needs, which is a common sight across Haryana.

He used to make Rs. 5-10 per fight at these Dangals. Sandeep's career path took a drastic turn when he decided to apply for the Indian Army in 2006. Sandeep, now a Subedar in the Army, did not have an easy ride to get there. "Those were really hard times (early childhood), and joining the Army changed my life. I went to the Indian Army open recruitment test and cleared it. I still remember that I travelled to another city and only spent 36 rupees throughout the day and was relieved to be selected, and here I am now, representing my country in Olympics for the second time," Sandeep had told Mykhel in an interview.

Sandeep also represented India at the 2012 London Olympics in the 50-km racewalk, where he finished with a time of 03:56.22s, setting a new National record. Later at the 2016 Rio Olympics, he shifted to 20-km racewalk, where he finished 35th. After the world was hit by the pandemic, focus on Sports and the Olympics took a backseat.

Sandeep had to leave the SAI centre in Bangalore and return to his village in May 2020. Sandeep levelled the farmland he owns to train for the Olympics using a tractor, where he prepared for the next five months.

Sandeep is optimistic about his chances in Tokyo as he believes he has become a much better and smarter racewalker with time. "My timing in 20 km has always been not too far from podium finishes, and at an event like Olympics, with better Athletes around, I will push myself to clock a better score," he told Mykhel.

The triad of Indian racewalkers can surprise the world with their performance in Tokyo while bringing attention to racewalk as a sport in India. Let's hope they do both and then some.

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