Sapporo (Japan): National record holder Sandeep Kumar was going strong at second position till near the halfway mark but he faded later on to finish 23rd with a below-par timing in the men's 20km race walk event in the Olympics here on Thursday.
The 35-year-old Kumar crossed the finish line in 1 hour 25 minute and 7 seconds, well outside his national record time of 1:20:16 which he had clocked in February to qualify for the Olympics during the National Open Race Walk Championships in Ranchi.
His two other compatriots, Rahul Rohilla (1:32:06) and K T Irfan (1:34:41) brought up the rear at 47th and 51st with disappointing performances under hot and humid conditions.
Fifty seven athletes started in the competition and 52 finished their races. Five were either disqualified or DNF (Did Not Finish).
Italian Massimo Stano won gold in 1:21:05, while the Japanese pair of Ikeda Koki (1:21:28) and Yamanishi Toshikazu (1:21:46) took the silver and bronze respectively.
Kumar, who shifted from 50km race walk to 20km event as it will no longer be an Olympic event from the next edition, was hot on the heels of 2018 Asian Games gold medallist Kaihua Wang of China till the 8km mark as the duo took initial lead.
But slowly Kumar dropped back to be with the chasing pack. He also got his second warning around that time.
Kumar had taken part in 50km race walk in 2016 Olympics — where he finished 35th — but the event will no longer feature in the Games as it is tough for women to compete in it and gender parity has become the norm in global competitions.
For the 31-year-old Irfan, it has been a downward journey in the last few years. He also competed in the 2012 London Olympics where he finished a creditable 10th with a time of 1:20:21 (then national record).
He was the first track and field athlete to qualify for the Olympics way back in March 2019 but he was one of the two athletes on the verge of being left out of the Tokyo Olympics team on account of dip in form.
His performance during a fitness trial on July 9 was below par but the AFI cleared him, along with long jumper M Sreeshankar, on the ground that it was not a performance trial.
His last competition before Thursday's event was during the National Race Walking Championships in March, where he did not finish the race. He had contracted COVID-19 in May and has recovered since then.