National record holder KT Irfan Sunday became the first Indian from athletics to qualify for the next year’s Olympics while finishing fourth in the 20 km event of the Asian Race Walking Championships in Nomi, Japan. The 29-year-old Irfan clocked 1 hour 20 minutes and 57 seconds to better the Tokyo Olympics qualification standard of 1 hour 21 minutes.
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The road to redemption has not been smooth for KT Irfan. Seven years ago, the race-walker finished 10th in the 20km event at London Olympics with a national record of 1.20.21. If that raised expectations, a stress fracture in 2014 changed everything. He missed the bus to Rio Olympics in 2016 and last year, the Malappuram athlete was sent back from the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast for allegedly breaching the ‘no-needle policy’ against doping. For someone tagged as an Olympic-medal prospect, worse followed. He was disqualified from the Asian Games for a technical fault. Irfan, who has a personal best as well as a national record of 1:20:21 which he did during his 10th place finish in 2012 Olympics, also qualified for this year’s World Championships (September 27-October 6) in Doha, Qatar as he bettered the qualifying mark of 1:22:30. The Kerala race walker had won the 20 km event in the National Open Race Walk Championships in Chennai last month with a time of 1:26:18.
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