Khushbir Kaur was always destined to be a race walker. At the tender age of nine and a half months, the girl from Rasulpur Kalan village near Amritsar gave her parents a glimpse of her precocious talent as she walked her very first steps.
History at the 2014 Asian Games
20 years later, the world came to know of her gift as she won the silver medal in 20km women’s race walk at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games. With that, Kaur engraved her name into the record books as the first ever Indian woman to capture a race walking medal at the Asiad.
The timing of 1.33.07 seconds helped her better her own national record and shed light on a rising brigade of Indian walkers making rapid strides on the international stage. Most of the credit for this incredible development goes to specialist Russian coach Alexander Artsybashev under whose meticulous planning, the young bunch is thriving.
2014 – A year to remember for Khushbir
Khushbir, especially, has been a standout performer in this group. 2014 was her annus mirabilis as she consistently kept on improving the national record at different tournaments. At the Asian Race Walking Championship in March, she grabbed the bronze and lowered the national record. Just two months later, the ever-improving Kaur broke the national record once more at the World Race Walking Cup in Taicang.
Khushbir’s intellect, diligence and dedication to her craft were what moulded her into an elite performer who can give the top medal contenders a run for their money. No doubt Artsybashev has high hopes from his ward and has lauded her tactical acumen.
“Race walking is all about tactics, experience and intellect. Khushbir is very smart that way, she has a man’s brain in a girl’s head,” the Russian has said about Kaur.
Just two months after turning 21, the young walker put up a demonstration of her maturity and confidence at the Incheon Asian Games. It was a show of quiet defiance from the Rasulpur Kalan girl who was warned twice during the race for lifting her legs. Yet she carried on unperturbed and raced into history.
Perhaps tackling difficulties came natural to her which is why it cannot knock her off her perch. After her father passed away when she was just seven, her mother took up multiple small jobs and became the family’s sole bread-earner. That adversity prepared her for the bigger battles ahead.
At the 2008 junior nationals, the teenager completed her race barefoot as the family could not even afford a pair of walking shoes then.
Great junior career
But despite the hardships, it was her mother’s steadfast determination that pushed her into the world of sports and encouraged her to reach where she is today. It didn’t take a lot of time for her talent to get noticed.
In 2007 at the age of 14, the Punjabi girl emerged as the state champion in the 3,000 metre race walk. Her graph kept soaring in the domestic junior circuit, especially after joining forces with the former Asian Championship medallist, Baldev Singh. It was under his tutelage that she started impressing on the international circuit as well and clinched the silver medal at the 2010 Youth Asian Games and the bronze at the 2012 Asian Junior Championships.
After her 2014 Asian Games glory, her target was always qualifying for the biggest sports event – the Olympics. And she accomplished her mission at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in Rio Maior, Portugal in early 2015. She met the qualifying criterion of 1:35 by clocking 1:33:58 that fetched her a 13th place finish. The 2015 World Championships, which happened just a few months later, was Khushbir’s first global assignment since the Asiad.
She was, however, seven minutes away from her personal best and could only end up 37th. The burden of expectations definitely played a part there.
This Anglian Medal-Hunt Company-supported athlete will surely be better prepared when she heads to Rio in six months’ time. In a discipline that is dominated by the Russians and the Chinese, Khushbir Kaur is a whiff of fresh air and is truly leading the revolution of athletics in India.Published 08 Feb 2016, 09:22 IST