From wanting to win athletics gear to Olympic hopeful – the Priyanka Goswami story

Image: Priyanka Goswami Instagram

Priyanka Goswami, the racewalking star was the first Indian woman to win a Commonwealth Games medal. She bagged a silver in Birmingham 2022 in the 10,000 m Racewalk event. She came 17th at the Tokyo Olympics in the Women’s 20km Racewalk. In the same category, Goswami won a Paris 2024 quota by achieving the qualification mark at the Indian Open National Racewalking Championship in Ranchi in 2023.

Recently, at the World Athletics Racewalking Team Championships in Antalya, Turkey, Goswami along with her partner Akashdeep Singh came 18th in the 20 km mixed relay event. The top 22 teams automatically gained a spot for the Olympics, and the Indian pair clocked a personal best of 3:05:03 to achieve this milestone.

In an exclusive chat with RevSportz, Priyanka opened up on her journey from gymnastics to racewalking, the technicalities of the sport, support from the federation and more. Here are the excerpts.

Q: How was the experience in Antalya?

Priyanka: Well, it was pretty hard! It was my first time trying out this event. Everything was new for me in this event. It happened a few times in the nationals, but I didn’t take part in those. I was not sure of the resting zones and just started the race “Bhagwan bharose [Trust God]”.

Some of the participants were confused as to where their partner was, because the distance between different athletes become big during the race. The race started at 2 pm, and the sun was bright. That was a different issue, but thankfully we got the Paris quota. Otherwise, it would have been an unsuccessful campaign.

Q: Could you please elaborate on the ‘missing partners’ incident?

Priyanka: Well, actually not missing. I think it was the South Korean girl, who was waiting for her partner to finish his laps and pass on the band for her to continue, but the referee actually stopped her saying he has another round left and the other participants in the line started laughing saying “what’s the hurry about?”

Q: How was your team chemistry with Akashdeep?

Priyanka: Well, it was good, but it didn’t matter much because we both had to run our own races. He (Akashdeep) ran his 10 kms and then I ran mine and then again, the same. There were two teams from India participating in this competition and we finished around 5 minutes early. But we could have done a bit better and covered it in four minutes less. Then we could have been in the top 10. But in Paris, we do expect to be in the top 10 and if situations are in favour, who knows? We can make a podium finish.

Q: Going back to your story. How, when and why did Racewalking start for you as a sport and also professionally?

Priyanka: See, if someone told me at that time that there is an event of walking 20 kms, probably I would have been scared and never got into it. I started with a 3 km walk in my childhood. I grew up in Meerut, and in school I started gymnastics when I was in standard VI. But I left gymnastics. I focused on studies for two years and then again planned on starting sports. This time I went to the athletics coach in school and started running. At that time, in district sports meets, they used to give bags and track suits as prizes. That was the motivation to participate. That year, they had bags as prizes, and I took part in running, but I didn’t win anything. At last, there was this event of racewalking and there were only three participants. I was the fourth one. I thought I will surely win something in this one, and participated and came third. That was the beginning of my racewalk journey.


Q: When we say ‘walk’, there is a perception how difficult could it be? How difficult is racewalk actually?

Priyanka: It’s very difficult! Because this is an event where it doesn’t only depend on how good you are but also on the judges. Lot of times, people are disqualified by the judges. There is an infamous saying in our sport: “Jiski desh uski medal (medal belongs to the countrymen)”.

Sometimes, I feel I could have played a different sport, then probably I would have also won a medal but then I feel thankful that the sport has given me whatever I have today. But it is a very difficult sport, because not only do you have to be at the top of your fitness but also a lot depends on the judges’ decisions.

Q: So, what is the technicality of the sport? What is the difference between ‘running’ and ‘walking’?

Priyanka: Yes, both are long distance races, but the main difference is the toe and back-toe placements. In running you land on your toes and one of the back toes always has to be touching the ground. Also, the supporting leg has to be straight from the point of contact with the ground till the whole body passes over it and the other leg is moved forward. Any time a back toe is not in touch with the ground [during racewalking], it’s a violation of the rules of the game. It’s a very technical game and there are many instances of disqualifications. Earlier they used to give two warnings and on the third fault, the athlete was disqualified. But now, there are three warnings given and the disqualification happens on the fourth fault.

Here in Antalya, there were so many warnings that the electronic board was filled with red marks, and we couldn’t even spot our names. There were Olympic and World Championship medallists also who were penalised either for them or their partners. Even if your partner marks a fault, the team suffers. Luckily, by God’s grace, neither me nor my partner received a single warning the entire race. But overall, the judges were very strict in this tournament.

Q: In these long distant races, mental fitness is of the utmost importance. It’s a test of endurance. Even after 15 kms, you still have 5 kms to go. How to do deal with it and what do you do to keep yourself mentally fit?

Priyanka: Yes! It’s of utmost importance. Not only for myself, but also for the judges. We have to go 20 laps in front of the same judge and after each lap I have to say in my mind that I’m one lap closer. Sometimes, the mind is not there, and it feels that I won’t make it and that’s where the challenge is to motivate myself on the track to go and finish the race. I try to stay focused and try to do better than my previous attempt. This actually helps me to keep other things aside and focus entirely on the race.

Q: What are your plans for the coming months before the Paris Olympics?

Priyanka: This was my last tournament before Paris. I’ll be coming to India and spend some time there. We have Switzerland planned for June, for a 30-day altitude training and then come down to France (location not yet decided) where the temperature will be on the higher side. Then, directly to Paris.

Q: A word on your coach, support from SAI and the Federation.

Priyanka: The support from the Federation has been tremendous. I wanted to go to Australia to train under coach Brent Vallance, and they agreed. It wouldn’t have been possible without their support. My time under coach Vallance have helped me a lot to improve my game. In India, the competition is not much high for me, but there, there are so many athletes under him who are much better than me. I get to learn a lot from them. And this is not only for me, the Federation supports all the players and they believe in them. They think an investment today will give fruit in the Olympics to come.

Q: Final two. You came 17th in Tokyo, won silver in the Birmingham CWG. Now, what’s your personal goal for Paris? And do you have a role model?

Priyanka: Well, it will all depend on the day. How my fitness level is, how the temperature and other conditions are. But I’m sure to do a lot better than Tokyo. And for your second question, no, I’m my own role model (laughs).