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An interview with 'Malappuram Express' KT Irfan, India's premier race walker

An interview with 'Malappuram Express' KT Irfan, India's premier race walker who aims to win a medal at the Asian Games 2014.

KT Irfan, India's premier race walker
KT Irfan, India's premier race walker

Irfan Kolothum Thodi, or KT Irfan, is fondly known as ‘Malappuram Express’, a moniker inspired by the name of the small Kerela town that he hails from. He became the pride of the nation after finishing 10th at the London Olympics in race walking, a sport rarely heard of in India.

Irfan’s contribution to India and sport is immense, and he consistently proves his mettle at international events and as a part of the Indian army. Irfan holds a national record in the 20km race walk with a timing of 01.20.21 seconds. It is now time for the country to give back to this sepoy who needs a helping hand to recreate magic at the upcoming Asian Games.

You can help make his victory a national victory by donating here or by simply sharing the cause on your social media platforms to raise awareness. This is a call to action and Irfan needs your support.

Here’s a Ketto exclusive interview with Irfan about how this 24-year old trains relentlessly, the costs that he incurs and what this country needs to change the sports landscape of India.

Q: Tell us about your time in the Indian army.

I joined the army in sports quota in March 2010. I trained under Subedar Ramkumar in the Madras Regimen Centre. I participated in the ATNK & K area meet and won the gold medal in 2010, clocking 1:33:12 seconds. In the same year, I won gold at the Services Meet with the time 1:27:12 seconds. In 2011, I started my journey with my current coach Gurdev Singh.

Q: Has your army training benefited your athletic abilities?       

After joining the army I was posted in Ooty where I trained most of the time. The climate in Ooty was very effective for conditional workouts. The army facilities were top class. It was a very crucial period in my sporting life. 

Q: How were you introduced to this sport?

My entry to sports was accidental. I come from a small village in Kerala. Football is the most popular sport there. I always liked sports. There was one walker in my village named Ribas. He was considered as the best walker in Kerala. I used to serve refreshments to Ribas and sometimes note his training timings. 

One day some of my friends suggested to me to try race walking when I accompany Ribas. I tried it for a few days and started liking it. That was the turning point in my life. After that, I participated in my school meet and defeated the state champion. In 2007, I was called for trails in SAI Calicut and I was selected there. And from there, my professional sports life started.

Q: Walk us through your training regimen.

Morning training (which starts at 5am every day)

- Morning training:

- 1km run warm up

- 5km walk warm up

- Full body stretching and then my training work out starts

Evening training:

- 1km run warm up

- 1km walk warm up

- Walking training

- Ends with stretching

Q: How many hours a day do you have to practice?

Morning - 3 hours

Evening - 2.30 hours

Q: What are the costs associated with your training?

It's difficult to estimate but I require minimum two pairs of special walking shoes every month. Each shoe costs about Rs 10,000-15,000. Additionally, I need nutritional and medical supplements every month coupled with with physiotherapists and a masseur’s fee.

Q: How would you compare the standard of training in India and that which is available abroad?

The standard of training abroad is far better than India. In terms of the infrastructure, support staff etc. they are way ahead.

Q: What has been your biggest achievement yet?

Finishing in 10th place at the London Olympics in 2012 with the time of 1:20:21 seconds, which is a national record.

Q: How is crowdfunding important to you and other rising athletes?

Crowdfunding is very helpful for those athletes who want to continue in their respective sports but can’t do so because of financial problems. It’s the main reason why young athletes drop out from sports. Through crowdfunding people come to know about the sport and the athlete, who are working tirelessly to bring laurels for the country. I am sure every proud Indian wants to see India as a top sporting nation in the world.

Q: Can you throw light on Olympic Gold Quest’s role in your life and career?

I signed with Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ) after the London 2012 Olympics. It was a very good step for me in my sporting career. I am thankful to OGQ for their full support. The cost of accessories in my sport is very high and for someone like me who comes from a middle class family it is very difficult to afford. But with the support of OGQ I am getting world class shoes, sports equipment and physio assistance. And it is not just the financial support but also the mental support which the OGQ team gives me, which is really beneficial. They are available for me 24x7.

Q: What systems, structures and establishments do we need in India to give Indian athletes a better chance at winning at the Olympics?

Lots of things have to be done. For example:

- Need to provide world class infrastructure

- Athletes should be given quality food supplements

- More international exposure for training and competition

- Each athlete should have a personal physio and masseur

- Proper financial assistance as per the need of the athlete

I feel there is immense talent in India. If given proper attention, India can be one of the top sporting countries in the world.

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