An early charge helped defending champion Gurmeet Singh go past national record-holder K.T. Irfan and win the men’s 20km title at the Muthoot Mini second National Open race walking championship at Willingdon Island on Saturday.

Gurmeet broke away early and after 4km had gained a 100m lead over an eight-man bunch which included fellow-Olympian Irfan.

With about 2km to go, Irfan shook off Tamil Nadu’s National Open champion K. Ganapathi who was hot on his heels and then came up with a serious challenge to the leader.

At one stage Irfan, who turned 24 today, was just five seconds behind Gurmeet but a tinge of pain in his left leg forced him to stop pushing and opt for a safe strategy and that made it easy for the defender.

“I had a rather sleepless night, I just slept for an hour or so, so I was only looking at winning here, not a personal best,” said Gurmeet, a bronze medallist at last year’s Asian 20km road racing championship in Japan and a silver medallist in the same event the previous year. “I’m aiming for a gold at the Asian championship (in March in Japan) this time.”

Gurmeet’s time (1:22.58s), however, was the third fastest in the world this year while Irfan’s (1:23.22) was the fourth best.

ONGC’s 20-year-old Khushbir Kaur, who set the national record at last year’s World championship in Moscow, retained the women’s title, in the event held on a 2km loop course, with Railway’s Rani Yadav and Deepmala Devi taking the next two spots.

The men’s 50km and the junior boys’ and girls’ 10km events will be held at the same venue on Sunday.

The results (20km, top five):

Men: 1. Gurmeet Singh (AFI) 1:22.58s, 2. K.T. Irfan (Kerala) 1:23:23, 3. K. Ganapathi (TN) 1:23:34, 4. Devender (AFI) 1:23.44, 5. Basant Bahadur Rana (AFI) 1:23.52.

Women: 1. Khushbir Kaur (ONGC) 1:36.25s, 2. K.M. Rani Yadav (Rly) 1:41.24, 3. Deepmala Devi (Rly) 1:42:34, 4. Sapna (AFI) 1:43.02, 5. Sandeep Kaur (Pun) 1:46.06.

More In: Other Sports | Sport