VIKAS SINGH, the 26-year-old Delhiite who has achieved the qualification time for the Paris Olympic Games in men’s 20km race-walking, hails from Seelampur area where several families consider themselves lucky to have two square meals a day.
On March 19, the promising athlete was among two Indian race-walkers, Paramjeet Singh Bisht being the other, to successfully achieve the 2024 Paris Olympic Games entry standard at the Asian Race Walking Championship in Nomi,Japan.
Vikas clocked 1 hour, 20 minutes and 05 seconds in the men’s 20km open race-walking category to better the Olympic Games qualification time of 1 hour, 20 minutes and 10 seconds.
He is also the third Indian racewalker (20km) to have qualified for the 2023 World Athletics Championship and the postponed Asian Games scheduled to be held in China in September.
Vikas is attending the national camp in Bengaluru at the moment and although he gets boarding and lodging facilities, he needs financial support — missing at the moment – to push hard in the future and stay on track as qualification for Olympics doesn’t guarantee a place in the national athletics squad for the quadrennial event.
Over the coming months, performances of athletes who have achieved Paris Olympic Games qualification standard, will be monitored closely by the Athletics Federation of India (AFI). Athletes risk being dropped from the national team bound for the Paris Olympic Games if their performance is unsteady.
“It is a challenging task for an athlete like me having limited resources at hand,” Vikas told Patriot.
“Hopefully, I shall get some sponsors in future to fuel my passion to work extra hard and stay in contention for a berth in the Indian contingent for the Paris Olympic Games.”
Growing up in Seelampur area of Delhi inadvertently sharpened Vikas survival instinct as there was no structured growth and day-to-day earning for the family was more important than having predetermined goals in life.
His father was a vegetable vendor, while mother was a housewife who worked hard to give her best to the kids. Vikas was the eldest of the four siblings.
“I grew up in an area, where going out in the dark meant you might get robbed or stabbed,” Vikas revealed.
As he was growing up, his mother sent him to Farrukhabad near Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh (UP) to take care of a maternal grandparent.
“Being the oldest, I was given the responsibility to take care of my Naani (grandmother),” Vikas recalls.
Shifting to UP turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the youngster.
During his early days in college, he often had to work at his uncle’s shop to earn his pocket money.
Working from morning until evening at a small provision store in Farrukhabad meant he had no time for sports and it was obvious he never thought of excelling in sports.
But interactions with collegegoing friend Mahendra Pratap Singh, who competed in athletics events especially race-walking, and often won local and national level races, changed his life.
Mahendra also enjoyed certain privileges both in college and outside thanks to being a successful athlete.
Vikas got attracted to sports when he heard stories from Mahendra about how “sports changed his lifestyle”.
“I saw newspaper clippings of Mahendra being felicitated after winning the races. I was motivated to try my hand in race-walking. I thought I would also earn similar accolades in future,” Vikas said.
To pursue “better life through sports”, Vikas gambled and shifted to Patiala in Punjab from UP.
“Patiala was the hub of athletics and my friend was also practicing at the same venue,” Vikas added.
Despite meagre resources, he managed to stay afloat. He shared a rented accommodation and cooked his meals.
“I had money for breakfast but often had my dinner in a public kitchen (langar) at a local Gurudwara Sahib in Patiala,” Vikas said of his challenging days in Punjab.
In his first year of competition at the National Race-Walking Championship in 2015, he won gold in the junior men’s 10km event. The following year, he won bronze in the junior men’s 10km race.
“Back-to-back podium finish at the national level was a good platform to showcase my potential,” recalls Vikas.
“The medals won in the nationals also enabled me to get a job in the Indian Navy through sports quota.”
Meanwhile, he also finished his graduation. He had to miss the 2017 season as he had to go for an official training course with Indian Navy.
He returned to the national scene in 2018, but had mixed luck. He got a ticket to compete at the Asian Race-Walking Championship in China, but missed the flights to 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and 2018 Jakarta Asian Games in Indonesia.
“It was disheartening to miss two major international competitions of 2018,” explains Vikas.
Experts believe “catch them young” is the right mantra for excellence in competitive sports. But Vikas’s decade-old athletics profile reveals that he was a late bloomer. He randomly started athletics (race-walking) in 2013 during his first year in college, but the undulating journey tested him to the hilt.
The urge to escape poverty made Vikas hungry. His transition from junior to senior level was smooth yet challenging. He finished fourth in the men’s 20km at the 2019 Senior National Race-Walking Championship and won bronze in the 2020 edition of the national championship. When he was making progress, he was officially assigned duty during Covid-19 pandemic and faced a challenging task on his return to make a big impression in the domestic competition and achieve qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games held in Japan in 2021.
In 2022, he failed to qualify for the Eugene World Athletics Championship and Birmingham Commonwealth Games.
“All I can say is that the 2021 and 2022 domestic seasons weren’t productive for me,” said Vikas.
But the international race-walker from Delhi bounced back and is elated to have made a good beginning in 2023.
“I have qualified for the 2023 World Athletics Championship. I have also achieved qualification for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. All I need to do is maintain my good form to achieve good results in future,” he said from his training base in Bengaluru.
However, it is too early to say that Vikas’s “good performance” at the 2023 Asian Race-Walking Championship will financially benefit him. He is getting facilities at the national camp but playing kit like shoes, which is one of the most expensive equipment, has to be purchased by him.
“I have to support my parents and siblings. Sometimes I have to borrow money from friends to buy shoes,” Vikas said and added that a pair of good shoes cost Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 and last for only two-three months.
Considering his financial limitations, the Seelampur athlete faces a steep climb.
However, Vikas is optimistic and wouldn’t let God-sent opportunities slip.
“I am hopeful someone will recognise my potential and support me in future,” he added.