New Delhi: Bhawana Jat, who on Saturday booked a Tokyo Olympics berth in 20km race walk event after winning gold in the National Championships here, said she is now hoping to be included in the government's Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS).
The 23-year-old athlete, who hails from a poor farmer's family at Kabra village in Rajasthan's Rajsamand district, clocked 1 hour 29 minutes and 54 seconds, well inside the Olympic qualification time of 1:31:00, to win the gold and break the two-year old national record of 1:31:29 in the name of Delhi's Baby Soumya.
Bhawana's effort was a massive improvement of more than eight minutes from her personal best of 1:38.30s set in October last year during the National Open Championships here. She also became only the second Indian woman to qualify for Olympics in 20km race walk after Khushbir Kaur, who competed in 2016 Rio Games.
Bhawana, who is currently posted as TTE (Train Ticket Examiner) in Kolkata, said she has been facing a lot of financial difficulties.
"I cannot take part in a National Championships without hard training. So, I was training in Jaipur with my coach (Gurmukh Singh) for the last three months. I was not allowed to go for training with pay and I am competing here on without pay," Bhawana told PTI from Ranchi.
"It is very difficult to compete at the senior level with a meagre income. I have to look after my parents and think about my training as well. I am hoping that I will be included in the Target Olympic Podium Scheme to be able to train properly for the Olympics," she added.
Bhawana said she faced a lot of financial difficulties during her early career.
"My father is a small farmer and my mother a housewife. I have one older and one younger brother and it was very difficult to run the family from my father's meagre income. I took up the Railways jobs only to help my father. It is very difficult for me to pursue athletics," she said.
Asked about her goal in the Tokyo Olympics, she said, "In 2016 Rio, the gold was won in 1:28:35s and bronze in 1:28:42s. So, if I make further improvement of a minute or so I can be in medal contention, you never know. I feel I can improve up to 1:27:00s in Tokyo. In any case, I will be happy if I finish in the top 10."
Bhawana, who currently trains on her own in Jaipur with her coach Gurmukh Sihag, has not taken part in any international event in junior or senior level. She also has never been in a national camp under the Athletics Federation of India (AFI).
She attributed her stunning performance to hard work under coach Gurmukh.
"I began athletics in 2010 and my physical education teacher told me to try race walking. I took it up and from there, I took part in the school nationals. After that I was at the SAI Bangalore under the government scheme," said Bhawana, who is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree through correspondence.
Before moving to Jaipur, Bhawana was training in Rohtak. She also trains under her earlier coach Harpreet Singh when in Kolkata.