The story of Manish Singh Rawat had created waves in the Indian media during the Rio Olympics. From being an unknown entity to an athlete who would go on to inspire millions, he has indeed come a long distance.
Now, ahead of his first Commonwealth Games, the racewalker speaks exclusively to Sportskeeda from Gold Coast over the phone about his preparations, how life has changed after Rio, future ambitions and more. Here are excerpts:
Q> Having travelled to Gold Coast well before the event, how are you preparing for the race?
Manish: Here, the sun comes out really early in the morning. By 5-5.30 it gets quite warm and that is a bit of problem. Thankfully, we flew down well before the event. I have been able to get acclimatised to the weather.
I am not trying to do anything special or different right now. With just a few days left, there's no point in changing anything. In India, I was clocking 1:21, 1:22 and I think that timing might be enough for a medal. Having said that, one can never be too sure (laughs).
Q> It has been almost two years since Rio Olympics, how has your life changed?
Manish: A lot has changed since Rio, career-wise and in personal life, as well. Before Rio, I had nothing. I used to think twice before making any expenses, however, minute it was. Now, there is financial support from some organisations, there is government support. So, life is better now.
No one knew me before Rio. When I used to go out for runs in my village, everyone would look at me and mock me. Now, everyone knows about me. More importantly, a lot of kids in my village have now started race-walking. In fact, two kids from my village recently won medals at the Khelo India School Games in racewalking. One of them, a girl who started out just two years back, bagged the gold medal.
Whenever I have some time I go and help them out in whatever way I can. I never got that you know, so in my way, I'm trying to give back as much as possible. I think if they get what I missed during my initial days, they can be moulded into medal prospects. I have only 4-5 years left in my career, after that, they are the future.
Q> What are your expectations going into the Commonwealth Games?
Manish: See, everyone comes into the Games with dreams of winning the top prize. No athlete comes to just participate. But at the end of the day, there is only one winner...there is only one gold medal. Of course, I will do my best to win a medal and I hope that if I can perform as I have been, I will be able to finish on the podium. However, a lot of other factors also come into play...fate, the climate on the day...let's see how it turns out.
At Rio, the federation had asked me to take part in 15km. They said that if I competed in 15km, they can have another athlete for 20km. But I myself told them that I have better chances in 20km. I told them I would finish inside the top-10 in 20km, I was a little bit overconfident. This time, though, I'm more cautious. I'm not thinking about results, not thinking about any pressure. I will just go to the event and do my bit.
Q> Looking at your competitors, there will be the Rio Olympic bronze medallist, the South African who finished fourth at the World Championships among others. Does that add extra pressure on you?
Manish: There is fierce competition in athletics at the Commonwealth Games. The athletes from Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa all come and then, the Aussies are there also. But the thing is they will be under more pressure, you know. For them, they have to win a medal. For me, it is like I have to win a medal. There is a difference. Say, for someone who comes first in his class always. He is always under the pressure of coming first again, but for the others, they just want to come first. I will not be tensed if I finish fourth or fifth but they will have that extra pressure.
Q> Lastly, have you begun preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?
Manish: See the Tokyo Olympics is just two years away. And, if you think you can perform well by starting your preparations now then you could not be more wrong. The moment I came back from Rio, I started preparations for Tokyo. I'm continuously looking to improve. Whatever mistakes I made there, I'm looking to rectify them. It's an individual sport and it depends on you. The rest is all up to God.Published 30 Mar 2018, 16:57 IST