No competition, less training - What lies ahead for athletes going for Tokyo Olympics?
With many countries have imposed restrictions on travel due to a spike in COVID cases, Indian sportspersons stare at uncertainties two months before the Tokyo Olympics.
India's Olympic-bound shooters, who are in quarantine till May 19, are keeping themselves busy with dry firing in their respective hotel rooms at Zagreb before they hit the range next week. Following a warm reception by the Croatian shooting fraternity, the Indian team will take part in the European Championship from May 20 to June 6 at Osijek, after which, the Indian shooters will compete in the ISSF World Cup, slated to be held in same city from June 22 to July 3.
India's shooting team who are touted as the best hope to win most medals at the Tokyo Olympics had so far been preparing for the Games with the best possibilities facilities in hand. With just two months in hand before the Olympics, the shooting contingent will be traveling to Tokyo straight from Croatia. However, other sports fraternities do not have such a rosy picture in their in their sight.
With the daily spike of coronavirus cases in India and reported fatalities in the country, there's an atmosphere of despair among players who remain uncertain about how they will train for the Tokyo Olympics.
India's ace javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra finds himself in a tough position. He has not competed in any major tournament for the last 15 months. bleak reality of having not competed in an international meet in 15 months. Chopra though has been able to retain his form, which was evident participating at the Indian Grand Prix (IGP) and Federation Cup in March. He threw 88.07m at the IGP (national record) in Patiala and it remains the world's third-best throw in this season. Germany's Johannes Vetter, the 2017 World Championships gold medallist, has crossed 90m twice this year. Chopra is yet to touch 90m. And while all the world's top throwers are competing in Diamond Leagues and other tournaments around the world, Chopra has been watching all his plans get scuppered one after another.
The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) had picked up Turkey, Poland, and Czech Republic, Finland to send javelin throwers but it was to no avail. Sweden is one of the centres being explored as an option. The AFI is in talks with the Ministry of External Affairs to send them to Europe.
Travel restrictions disrupted the relay teams' (men's and women's 4x400 and women's 4x100) chances of qualifying at the World Relays. Even the ones who have qualified are currently training in less than ideal conditions. It is yet to see whether they will be sent in foreign countries for the Olympics as the weather in Patiala, does not favour their training.
The Tokyo Olympics door has been slammed shut on shuttlers Saina Nehwal and Kidamabi Srikanth after the Singapore Open, the last of the qualifying events for the Games before the June 15 deadline, was cancelled. One still hopes the BWF will show some leeway, from an Indian perspective. However, chances of conducting another tournament before the Olympics begin on July 23 are slim and that makes the duo's task of qualifying remote. As things stands, only B Sai Praneeth and PV Sindhu have qualified in singles. Whereas, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty will make their way in men's doubles category. All shuttlers remain stranded in India and it seems they have to travel straight for Tokyo Olympics after two months.
Most of India's wrestlers are in India. Vinesh Phogat left India in April for training in Bulgaria. In January and February she was accompanied by her personal coach Woller Akos for a training camp in Hungary and Poland. Wrestler Bajrang Punia trained at the Cliff Kean Wrestling Club in Michigan from December till February before competing in the Rome Ranking Series and the Asian Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in April. He is now in India. It's expected that a few, like Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia, could take part in a ranking event in Poland before the Games.
Nine Indian boxers from India have qualified for the Olympics. If the Asian Championships happen, that will prove to be a blessing for a team who will have the opportunity. Six-times AIBA Women's World Champion and five-times ASBC Asian Women's Champion Mary Kom will compete in the flyweight (51kg) category. As per latest updates, half of 10-member women's team is doubtful to compete at the Asian Boxing Championships in Dubai starting May 21 after strict Covid-19 protocols at Army Sports Institute (ASI) in Pune didn't let them join the ongoing national camp. The Boxing Federation of India (BFI) had planned collective training for the 10-member squad at ASI ahead of the tournament. However, ASI has allowed boxers to join only in batches. While five, including MC Mary Kom, had joined till Friday, the remaining five had been allowed to move into ASI only next week. Sonia Lather (57 kg) Simranjit Kaur (60 kg) and Lovlina Borgohain (69 kg) are among those who have joined the camp.
The Archery Association of India (AAI) has initiated process for procuring visa for team to compete at next month's Olympic qualification event and World Cup in Paris. "We submitted online visa application forms on Friday to avoid a last-minute rush. The national women's recurve team is aiming to win a quota place in Paris (France)," an AAI official told IANS.
The top three teams in the Olympic qualification event will earn quota places. The Indian men's recurve team qualified for Tokyo Olympics at the 2019 World Championships in the Netherlands. The women's team is yet to make cut for Olympics though Deepika Kumari has won an individual quota place. According to an AAI official, the Olympic qualification event will take place on June 18 and 19 in Paris while the Archery World Cup Stage 3 is scheduled from June 21 to 27 at the same venue. The participants of the World Cup and Olympic qualification event will not have to undergo mandatory 10-day quarantine.
Following her participation in the Asian Weightlifting Championships, Mirabai Chanu flew to St Louis, US, after the Sports Authority of India cleared her programme during an emergency meeting so she could continue her training under strength and conditioning coach Dr Aaron Horschig. She had a two-month long stint under Horschig in the US from October last year as well. The upcoming Weightlifting Junior World Championships to be held in Tashkent between May 21 to 31 will be the last qualification event for the Olympics. Indian weightlifter Jeremy Lalrinnunga will be looking to secure his place at the Olympics this time around in the 67kg category.
Both Indian men's and women's hockey teams are in SAI campus in Bengaluru. With the cancellation of Hockey Pro League, and several other small meets, possibly India will have to go Tokyo in July directly and just have to settle playing a few friendly matches before their matches in the Olympics.