Race-walking, a sport in which a country of 1.3 billion has always struggled to have representation on a regular basis at the Olympics has finally started to garner some attention at the Tokyo Olympics. Sandeep Kumar kept many Indian viewers glued to their TV sets in the Men's 20km race-walking finals on Thursday, at a time when the country was still celebrating the bronze medal success of the men's hockey team. But now it's time for the women's team to make a mark in the event, where we'll see a certain Priyanka Goswami in action.
The 25-year-old had secured qualification for Tokyo Olympics in an emphatic manner when she set a new national record of 1:28:45 in the Women's 20km race-walking at the Open Indian Championship held in February 2021, at Ranchi.
Priyanka Goswami's journey to the Tokyo Olympics is quite intriguing, as race-walking wasn't her first sport and she also had no idea about the existence of the Olympics until 2012.
In a video interaction with The Bridge, the Tokyo Olympics-bound race walker Priyanka Goswami opened up about her journey to the Olympics. Excerpts:
On how she started with sports
I was a very active kid in my school, someone who used to get involved in everything. Once when I was in the seventh grade, one of our teachers asked us if anyone wants to play sports. Being the enthusiastic kid I was, I agreed right away without having any idea what I was signing up for. He asked me to come to a stadium at my hometown in Meerut; I went there, and he introduced me to Gymnastics. I pursued it for quite some time before moving to the state-government hostel at KD Singh Stadium in Lucknow.
On her switch to athletics
There was a physical training trial at the KD Singh Stadium wherein we had to run 800m; I was somehow first in that, and I was drawn towards athletics. Even though I was at the KD Stadium for gymnastics, I used to ask the girls there how I can switch to athletics as no one was allowing me to. I left the hostel and returned home then because I was not enjoying gymnastics.
I took a break for almost 3-4 years from sports after that. After that, I somehow gathered some courage and went to the stadium in Meerut, being scared of my teacher who introduced me to it. Thankfully, I found an athletics coach there and explained to him how I was in the hostel at Lucknow for gymnastics but left it for athletics. He was kind to listen and took me under his wings and made me do physical exercises and just one or two rounds of run for close to two months.
On how she started Race-walking
I competed in a district athletics meet in Meerut, where the winners used to get a bag in the prize. I participated in various events, including 800m, 1500m and others but could not win anything in any event. I was very sad as a lot of my friends won bags, and I could not win anything. This is when the coaches there, Gaurav Tyagi Sir and Vajpayee Sir, told me to try my hand at walking. They said there are only three girls competing in this event and you will surely win something. I competed in it and came third, and have been competing in Race-walking since.
On how she qualified for the Olympics
I did not even know anything about Olympics until 2012. I was competing in a North Zone tournament then when another athlete mentioned that today Race-walking is happening at the Olympics in London. That's when I knew something like the Olympics existed and that Race-walking happens there.
I never thought I would compete at the Olympics then, mainly because I did not have any idea. I just used to compete in 3km, and 5km walking then and started with 10km only when I was competing in under-18. I had no idea about 20km then and would probably have never played the sport if I knew about it. I used to feel 3km is very tiring and energy-draining; there was no chance I would have tried 20km.
But thankfully, things kept happening at the right time, and I persisted with it. A lot of the credit has to go to all my coaches who helped me develop. Everyone from Rajiv sir, who introduced me to gymnastics, to Gaurav sir, who taught me the basics of race-walking in Meerut, to the now coach Gurmeet Singh under whom I started doing well in 20km. I have not only qualified for the Tokyo Olympics but also for the World Championships. My performance at the 2020 Nationals gave me the confidence that I can do well, and this helped me better my show in 2021 and helped me qualify.
On the support from thefamily
I was never stopped from doing anything. Right from my childhood, I used to play with boys, and even though I came from a village, my parents never stopped me from doing anything. My uncles and other relatives did try to restrict me, but it did not really matter as my parents were by my side. I was good at studies as well, so the support from my parents was never an issue.
On her dreams for Tokyo Olympics
The only dream I had until now was to qualify for the Olympics. Now that I have qualified, my immediate dream is to win a medal for India in Tokyo. I have already been infected with covid-19 and have to ensure that I stay safe for the Olympics. Winning a medal in Tokyo will depend on a lot of factors, but my sole aim is to give my 100 percent and earn a podium finish.