Corona pauses India’s plan for Olympic glory

India’s quest to better its 2012 London Olympics’ six-medal haul will have to wait a year longer with the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to summer 2021. While the United States of America and China compete hard for the most medals at successive editions of the Olympics, for countries like India, with a population of 1.35 billion, Olympic glory had been limited to 1-2 medals until 2012. The big question in the minds of sports aficionados is: Will the delay due to the coronavirus pandemic impact India’s Olympic medal chances adversely? Many Indian sportspersons have already qualified for the Olympics and some are looking forward to the next qualifying events. With two sets of ambitions, the responsibility of the coach increases.

The sportspersons, who have already qualified, need to prepare to be world class and those who are yet to qualify have the next immediate hurdle to worry about. With getting into the Olympics another priority, coaches work very hard on those who are yet to qualify. In such a situation, prioritization becomes very difficult for the coach. If sportspersons who have already qualified are sent abroad without national coaches for training, it usually leaves the player entangled in the coaching pattern. Mohammad Qamar Ibrahim, the coach of the Indian women’s boxing team, said he feels relieved at the Olympic postponement. He said, “In the next Olympic qualifying, we are focused on the women›s 57 kg category where players like Sonia Lathar, Manisha, Sakshi and Sonia Chahal, along with many boxers, juniors to seniors, will be contesting for the spot.

A similar situation exists for boxers in men’s 57, 81 and 91 kg categories. While in the men›s 57 kg, Kavinder Singh Bisht, Gaurav Solanki, M.D. Hussain and Sachin are the contenders, in the 81 Kg, Brijesh Yadav, Sachin and Sumit Sangwan and, in the 91 kg, many boxers like Naman Tanwar and Sandeep will be at stake.” During the lockdown, the Sports Ministry conducted online sessions not only with athletes of TOPS scheme but also with the medal prospects of Tokyo Olympics. In these sessions, sportspersons got to interact with nutritionists, coaches, psychologists and physiotherapists. Apart from these discussions, sometimes badminton coach Pullela Gopichand speaks on sports and physical literacy. Indian hockey team’s High Performance Director  David John conducted a workshop of basics of exercise psychology. Due to the lockdown, Indian sportspersons have got enough time to attend many important training sessions of the Sports Authority of India (SAI).

Lalit Prasad, a coach of the Indian men’s boxing team, is of the view that one should not worry too much about the postponement of the Olympics. As soon as the training starts after the lockdown, they are confident that all the players will be at their peak within a month and will get an opportunity to take stock of their preparations in the Asian championship and Olympic qualifiers, he said. The same situation applies to other sport as well. There are many athletes who are at the SAI centre during the lockdown. Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra is at NIS Patiala, weightlifter and former world champion Mirabai Chanu, the men`s and women’s hockey teams are at NIS Bengaluru.  But there is a big difference between own practice and match practice. Professional preparations of sportspersons without training sessions have been badly affected.  There are 13 countries, including North Korea and Turkmenistan, where no coronavirus case has been reported. Olympics training is on in full swing in these countries. In the last Olympics at Rio, North Korea won gold in weightlifting and gymnastics. Apart from this, it won three silver and two bronze medals. The Sports Ministry can officially restore the training of these players only after obtaining permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs. The players are waiting. 

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