Four weeks before packing her luggage to compete at the Tokyo Olympic Games, India’s race walker Priyanka Goswami was busy chalking out plans for formidable Chinese athletes.
“The Chinese are tough,” said the 25-year-old national record holder in the buildup week to her Olympics debut.
Post the Tokyo Olympics, the Uttar Pradesh race walker has emerged mentally stronger. Priyanka’s time of 1 hour 32 minutes and 36 seconds placed her 17th in the field of 53 competitors.
Considering Priyanka was competing in an international event after a gap of five long years, her Tokyo performance was encouraging. Priyanka’s personal best and national record is the 1 hour 28 minutes 45 seconds she clocked in February this year at Ranchi.
In an online interview, the Olympian was candid in saying she was a bit nervous when she stood on the starting line to compete with the best in the business at the Tokyo Olympics.
Q Main takeaway from the Tokyo Olympic Games?
A. After competing at the Tokyo Olympic Games my confidence level has gone up. I think I will be able to do better in my next international competition. All the competitors are of the same caliber and anyone can win a medal on a given day.
Q You were with the leading group for the first 9km of the race. Why did you slow down after that?
A. I was a bit nervous. I was confused whether to go with the leading group or stay back. Eventually, I decided to go with the lead pack. It didn’t work for me. It spoiled my rhythm and I lost contact with the leading group.
Q What was your original plan at the Tokyo Olympic Games?
A. My plan was to race at my own pace and push hard in the last 5km. Had I followed my original plan I would have clocked a good time. I made a mistake. Since I was nervous and wanted to prove myself at the big stage, I went with the leading group. Pushing hard in the first half of the race spoiled my plan.
Q Were you prepared for the humid weather conditions in Japan?
A. That was another mistake I made. I wasn’t mentally prepared for local weather conditions. I was under the impression that Sapporo, the venue for road events, will be cooler than Tokyo in August. I packed a warm jacket, woolen cap and gloves in my luggage. When I landed in Sapporo, I was bit surprised that it was pretty warm and humid.
Q Several athletes in the competition got warning for losing contact with the ground. Was it anyway a distraction for you?
A. Some of the athletes in the leading group were warned by the judge for losing contact with the ground. It does spoil the rhythm and is a major distraction. After three warnings, the athlete spends two minutes at the penalty box. Athletes can be disqualified after a fourth warning. It could spoil the chance of winning a medal.
Q Technically how good are Indians in race walk event?
A. The Indians are good. However, there is a need for more improvement. Better technique means better performance.
Q What was your highest weekly mileage before the Tokyo Olympics?
A. The average weekly mileage was close to 180km. Sometimes it was less. The maximum weekly mileage we covered was 200km.
Q What was the longest distance you covered in one session?
A. Not more than 25km. The longest session per month was 30km. Since the focus was on average speed, the long session on weekends was 25km.
Q You had a bout of Covid-19 in April. How did you tackle that situation?
A. It was a challenging situation. I was quarantined for two weeks and couldn’t train. Since I didn’t think of missing training, I emerged stronger and was back to normal training in May.
Q Do you think there should be more domestic competitions to encourage race walk events in India?
A. In my opinion, there should be. There is one national race walk championship in February. If an athlete is not able to give his or her best, there should be a second race to prove yourself.
Q What about international exposure?
A. International competition is important as it gives you a chance to judge your rivals as well as evaluate your performance. In my opinion, regular international exposure is a must to win medals at the continental and world level.
Q Did you compete in any international meet in the build-up months to the Tokyo Olympic Games?
A. I wish I could. Due to the pandemic things never went along the expected lines. I had no international exposure in 2020 or 2021.
Q Do you think one or two international competitions before the Tokyo Olympic Games would have made the difference in your performance in Japan?
A. Certainly! In my case, I didn’t compete in any international competition since 2017. Even one international competition prior to the Tokyo Olympics would have been good to test my skills.
Q Young girls sometimes don’t get parents support to pursue sports. What are your views?
A. My parents are supportive. I believe parents should encourage their daughters. The concept should change and girls should also get opportunities to showcase their talent in whichever field they are good at.
Q What’s next for you?
A. I will be taking a break for a fortnight. I’m spending time with my parents in Meerut. I will be in Bengaluru soon to start training for the 2022 season.
Q What will be the main focus for the 2022 season?
A The 2022 season is crowded. Will sit down with my coach Gurmeet Singh and decide which events to tackle. I’ve qualified for the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene (USA). The Asian and Commonwealth Games will also feature in 2022. The focus will be to qualify for the Asian Games.