"--Indo-Asian New Service"
New Delhi, April 30 - With less than a week to go before the first starting gun fires at the IAAF World Race Walking Cup in Taicang, China, a 10-member Indian contingent left here Wednesday for the May 3-4 competition.

The event is the most important event for race walkers this year and most of the world's top stars are expected to make their way to China.

The Athletics Federation of India - selection committee, headed by former Asian Games gold medallist Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, picked a five-member men's team for the 20 km walk, a four-member men's team for the 50 km walk and a lone woman for the 20 km event.

Indian walkers are fast emerging as a force to reckon with and the AFI is focused on developing the Indian walking team for the 2016 Olympics. We are confident that if given enough support from the government and the private sector, walking could produce one of the first medals in athletics for India in the Olympics, AFI president Adille J. Sumariwalla said.

Randhawa was hopeful of India's chances at the world event.

For the first time, so many Indian walkers have qualified for the prestigious World Race Walking Cup and we are hopeful that competing amongst the world's top athletes will motivate them to push their own boundaries and bring pride to India.

The performance of Indian walkers has been encouraging in the past couple of years. Men's 20 km national record holder K.T. Irfan finished 10th at the 2012 London Games while recently Gurmeet Singh and Khusbir Singh won the 20km men's and women's bronze, respectively, at the Asian Race Walking Championship in Nomi, Japan, last month.

Gurmeet is confident after his showing in Japan and feels that the weather will be similar in China.

The weather in China will be similar to Japan where we did well. Going forward, the World Race Walking Cup is the biggest championship this year and I'm sure that we will do well in both the team and individual events, said the Punjab walker, who has a hat-trick of medals in the Asian Championships from 2012-14.

India is sending one of the largest numbers of walkers in the event. Hosts China will have 27 competitors, followed by 22 from Spain, 21 each from Russia and Ukraine, 18 from Italy and 14 each from United States and Mexico and 13 from Portugal.

The squad:

Men's 20 km: K.T. Irfan, Gurmeet Singh, Devender Singh, K. Ganapathy and Basant Bahadur Rana.

Men's 50 km: Sandeep Kumar, Maniram Patel, Manish Singh and Surinder Singh.

Women's 20 km: Khushbir Kaur.

Coaches: Gurdev Singh and Ajay Rathi.

--Indo-Asian New Service

ss/dg


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