New Delhi: Soumya Baby smashed the national record in women's 20km event as she pulled off a shock win over favorite Khushbir Kaur to clinch gold in the National Race Walking Championships here on Sunday.
Soumya, hailing from Thiruvananthapuram but representing Delhi in the championships, clocked 1 hour, 31 minutes and 28.72 seconds to better the earlier record of 1:31.40 - set by Khushbir - by 11 seconds.
Khushbir, the 24-year-old Incheon Asian Games silver medalist and representing Athletics Federation of India, clocked 1:32.16.96 to finish second while Karamjit Kaur (Haryana) took the bronze with her personal best effort of 1:34:08.60.
In the men's 20km event, national record holder K T Irfan of Kerala retained the gold in 1 hour, 21 minutes and 31.25 seconds. Uttarakhand's Manish Singh Rawat took the silver in 1:21:31.72 in a close finish while Haryana's Neeraj bagged the bronze in 1:21:39.20.
Both the men's and women's 20km event gold, silver and bronze medalists pocketed Rs 30,000, Rs 25,000 and Rs 20,000 respectively. The corresponding podium finishers in men's 50km event, held Saturday, got Rs 30,000, Rs 15,000 and Rs 10,000 respectively. The winners of the U-20 10km event did not get any prize money.
The 28-year-old Irfan's effort was more than one minute outside his national record timing of 1:20:21 clocked at the 2012 London Olympics.
"I'm happy with my timing. It's early in the season and clocking just over a second than my personal best is very good. I'll try to break my national record in Commonwealth Games and win a medal," Irfan said.
All the three men's 20km race walkers clocked inside the qualifying standard of 1:22:00 set by the Athletics Federation of India for the upcoming Commonwealth Games.
For Soumya, who is a constable at Central Reserve Police Force at Jharoda Kalan here, it was a remarkable improvement by nearly 10 minutes from her personal best timing.
Her previous best stood at 1:41:04 which she logged while finishing second to Karamjit at the Federation Cup National Championships in Patiala last year.
A stunned Soumya said that she had not thought before the race that she would beat her training partner Khushbir and also set a national record.
"I did not know when in my last lap I was told by the officials and when I looked at the watch I told myself it's going to be my best time. I did not know what was the national record timing. After the race I was told I had broken the national record," Soumya said.
"I had not come here thinking I would beat Khushbir and win the gold. This is my first competitive race with her though we trained together at the Bangalore SAI Center under Alexander Artsybashev."
Kushbhir was leading for a major part of the race but Soumya overtook her in the penultimate lap. The course has a lap of 2km with a band each at the end of 1km long stretch.
"I did not want to push myself hard so early in the season. I came here with the aim of doing around 1:34:00 which should be enough to qualify for the Commonwealth Games," Khushbir said.
The AFI had set a qualifying standard of 1:35:00 for the Commonwealth Games.
"I have achieved my target time here and I hope to do my best at the Commonwealth Games. I want to prove myself there," said Khushbir who had held the national record since 2012.
The next big event for 20km race walkers is the Asian Championships in Nomi in Japan on March 19 but the AFI is mulling whether to send any Indians there considering the time gap for recovery of athletes to be able to compete in the Commonwealth Games in April.
"Commonwealth Games is our priority and the time gap after Asian Championships is not much for the race walkers to recover for CWG. We have a meeting tomorrow (Monday) to decide whether to send the athletes for the Asian Championships," AFI Secretary C K Valson said.
Some participants in the men's 20km event also protested over their disqualification by the judges during the race.
The championship was promoted by Meraki Sport & Entertainment while leading energy drink Enerzal was another partner.