Rio 2016: Ganapathi Krishnan, the race walker by passion and honey collector by profession

Ganapathi Krishnan’s family is not poor, at least not by the standards in Kone Goundanur, a small village in Tamil Nadu’s Krishnagiri district. But they are not in a position to fully finance the athlete’s passion.

And if this 20 kilometre race walker has made it to Rio Games, that’s only because his father took loans from banks or his brother in Indian Army has not thought twice before supporting him in his pursuit of his dreams. And after all this, the athlete’s achievements hardly made much news and even his friends and neighbours wouldn’t discuss it. Race walking is hardly a topic of discussion. People are largely unaware of it.

So why did Ganapthi take to walking? The 27-year-old used to scour the forest and climb nearby hills in search of honey; and that became the foundation for his fitness and walking prowess.

Ganapathi , who finished fifth in the Asian Championships and came 22nd in the 2016 World Cup, suffered bouts of depression when people around him used to say that “his efforts are just a waste of time”.

Though his family believe he is a born athlete, he could only hone his skills after joining the Indian Army. And within the six years of training, he started winning at international levels.

Ganapathi clocked 1:21:41 hours when he came 22nd in the World Championships held in Rome this year. His timing was not just the best among the Indians there but was good enough to make the cut for Rio.

Though Ganapathi’s father is proud of what his son — second of three — has achieved, he is aware that he has only brought home medals and not money. His father felt helpless when Ganapathi asked for an assistance of Rs 2 lakh recently after he could not get it from anywhere else.

“He keeps asking for money for training and equipment. His elder brother Thirupathy supports him. But for the Olympics, he needed a lot more money for equipment and food. So we had to take a loan of around Rs 3 lakh,” says his father.

In India, there is hardly any sponsor who is willing to invest on the athletes who are not popular that’s why without any stable financial and infrastructural assistance, athletes like Ganapathi cannot dream big.

This was the reason why till the time news of Ganapathi’s Rio qualification was not out in the public domain, his brother, who was the first person from the village ever to join the Army, was the most famous man in Kone Goundanur.

In fact, a clip of a local news channel which ran the report of Ganapthi’s Olympic qualification went viral across his village to transform his image amongst everyone in his home town. Now this clip is a “must” have in the mobile phones of everyone in his village.

People around him and back home feel betrayed when the government or the corporate world turns a blind eye to this extraordinary sportsman. The sadness though disappears for his family when they see that back home, in his old school in Mekalachinnampalli, the principal has decided to make Ganapathi’s story and achievements a topic of discussion at the morning assembly to motivate students.