India’s race walker Bhawna Jat set a new national record en route her triumph at the 7th National Open Race Walking Championships on Saturday.
Her timing of one hour, 29 minutes and 54 seconds in the 20km race walk also helped her seal a place for Tokyo 2020. The Olympic qualifying mark is set at 1:31.00.
Bhawna Jat is only the fourth athlete from the country to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in athletics. So far, KT Irfan (20km race walking), Avinash Sable (3000m steeplechase) and Neeraj Chopra (javelin throw), along with the 4x400m mixed relay team have qualified for Tokyo 2020.
The timing also helped Bhawna Jat set a new national record, obliterating the previous best of 1:31.29 set by Soumya Baby in 2018. The performance means she is the first-ever Indian woman to go below the one hour and 30 minutes mark in the event.
Meanwhile, Priyanka Goswami narrowly missed out on the Olympic qualification as she clocked 1:31.36 to finish second.
Among the men, Sandeep Kumar won the gold medal with a timing of 1:21:34 but was unfortunate to miss out on the Tokyo 2020 qualification by 34 seconds. He will get another chance to make the 2020 Olympics cut at the Asian Race Walk Championship, which will be held in Japan on March 15.
The Bhawna Jat tale
Bhawna Jat began her race walking career in 2014 in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres distance and slowly graduated to longer distances in the coming years. She first gave a crack at the 20km race in 2016, clocking 1:52.39 for a fifth-place finish at the Inter-State Championships in Hyderabad.
Though she stayed away from the distance for two years, in 2018 Bhawna Jat was back in the mix, managing a time of 1:43.56 at the Indian Race Walking Championships to finish ninth.
However, it was only in 2019 that the Indian race walker proved herself to be among the best in the country. In Ranchi for the Indian Open after a below-par start to her season, the Rajasthan athlete produced a fine show to leave the pack behind and take home her first-ever title in the race walking event with a timing of 1:38:30.
Having made the 2020 Olympics cut with another quality show on Saturday, the Indian race walker will hope to build on her performance when the showpiece event comes calling in a few months.