'Malappuram Express' 10th at Olympics, but No 1 in UAE

UAE-based brother of Indian who finishes 10th in 20km walk tells of hero who overcame great odds to reach London

Step aside Michael Phelps. Move over Saina Nehwal. Usain Bolt? Big deal.

For the large community of expatriates from the Southern Indian state of Kerala there is only one Olympic champion - they call him the 'Malappuram Express'.

His name is KT Irfan and he finished 10th in the London Olympics, 20-kilometer walking competition yesterday.

Irfan created a new national record in the race which was won by Chen Ding. Erick Barrondo from Guatemala came second, while another Chinese walker, Wang Zhen, was third.

But for Keralites across the world and in the UAE, there was only one winner -  KT Irfan.

KT Irfan represented India in the event and his brother Shajahan Kolathumthodi lives and works here in the UAE.

Speaking to Emirates 24|7, Shajahan, who works as a clerk in Consolidated Contractors, Dubai, beams with nothing but pride for his brother – his 10th place finish notwithstanding.

In fact, Irfan’s story is in the classic Olympian tradition of overcoming poverty and competing in the biggest sporting event of the decade.

Shajahan has been helping his young brother meet his expenses to become an Olympic-level athlete.

It is this back-story of two brothers and Olympic dreams that has spurred the Keralite community here in the UAE to plan special functions to honour Irfan when he returns from London

Walking a dream

Irfan hails from a poor Muslim family in Areekkode, Malappuram district.

He works as a sepoy in the Madras Regiment and could not afford expensive shoes needed for walking competitively, as his salary was not enough to cover his other requirements.

That’s where his brother here in the UAE, who though himself on a salary of Dh2,000 began to help fund Irfan’s Olympic dream.

Malayalam superstar, Mohanlal, also came forward to help him and the Kerala State Government eventually offered him Rs100,000.

Says Shajahan: “I am excited about my brother finishing tenth position. Even though he did not get a gold medal, he has made the country proud.

“I am confident that he will work hard and achieve new records. This is his first Olympics.

“Money was always an issue for the family. The shoes cost Rs7,000 and he had to spend money for food.

“His salary is only Rs15,000.

“Right from when he was in the Keezhur Government Higher Secondary School, he was practicing,” says his brother.

“He originally wanted to be a high jumper, but when he sustained an injury, my father stopped him. He then took to walking.”

“We are six members in the family and Irfan is fifth in the family.”

Kabeer Edavanna, a journalist from Thejus Daily, who hails from Malappuram district, says: “I feel proud that a poor Indian from my district has made it to the Olympics.

“Irfan hails from a very remote village of Malappuram and the entire credit for the achievement is for himself and his family.

This village is only ten kilometers away from my house and many prominent sports stars like U Sharafali, Indian football team captain, hailed from this region.

“Malappuram residents are more interested in sports and a village folk entered the Olympic games, is a great achievement.”

“We planned to bring him to the UAE. I am going to India to meet him.

We plan to give him an award,’ says Johar Abu Baker, a neighbor of Irfan who is also here in the UAE.

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