KT Irfan is one of four Olympic medal aspirants who, under the aegis of Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ), is campaigning on Ketto to raise funds and compete with his international counterparts. Learn more about the speed walker in this in-depth interview.
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 20 km race walk with a timing of 01.20.21 seconds. It is now time for the country to give back to this soldier who needs a helping hand to recreate magic at the upcoming Asian Games.
Here’s a Ketto exclusive as we talk with Irfan about how his relentlessly training, the costs he incurs and what this country needs to change the landscape of sports in India.
Tell us about your time in the Indian army.
I joined the army as part of the 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.
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 extremely effective for conditional workouts. The army facilities were top class. It was a very crucial period in my sporting life.
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 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 I 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 was selected. That marked the beginning of my professional sports life.
Walk us through your training regimen.
My training starts at 5am every day:
- 1km run warm up
- 5km walk warm up
- Full body stretching and then my training work out starts
- 1km run warm up
- 1km walk warm up
- Walking training
- Ends with stretching
How many hours a day do you have to practice?
Morning – 3 hours
Evening – 2.30 hours
What are the costs associated with your training?
It’s difficult to estimate, but I require a minimum of 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 physiotherapists and a masseur’s fee.
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 infrastructure, support staff etc., they are way ahead.
What has been your biggest achievement yet?
Finishing 10th place in London Olympics in 2012 with the time of 1:20:21 seconds, which is a national record.
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 to the country. I am sure every proud Indian wants to see India as a top sporting nation.
Explain 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 it all. 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 24×7.
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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