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  • Mar
  • 26

Olympic Postponement: Blessing or burden for Indian athletes?

Author Image Mervin LR

The Tokyo Olympic games won't take place until 2021, and the change in timeframe could have a major effect on Indian athletes – making a case of both vice and virtue.

It's been like a cascade as minutes flow into hours, that descend into days and transform into weeks. The unprecedented and unpredictable spread of the Coronavirus outbreak has seen the situation in the rest of the world deteriorating.

You heard about the virus in China and you start thinking about the pandemic movies that you've seen in the past, and you think 'that's not going to happen,' and then it just keeps rolling downhill and keeps getting bigger and bigger.

There are more than 375,000 cases now recorded worldwide and in nearly every country, and their number is growing by the hour.

With major sporting events have also felt the brunt of the threat. For days, athletes had been voicing concerns about the 2020 Tokyo Games, worrying that they were jeopardizing their health and the health of others if they continued training while many of their countries were locked down and restricting activity. 

Yet on when the news finally came, it was the ultimate mixed blessing: a lifeline for some and a new set of challenges that may be insurmountable because of financial, age or health issues for others.

For Olympic athletes, taking a week off can be disastrous, and the thought of postponing the games for a year could make the situation even worse. The postponement of Tokyo 2020 will affect each sport differently, and in many cases, it is a bit more complicated than simply competing one year later. There are plenty to ponder upon from – qualifications process changes to sporting calendar, and logistical challenge and doping regulations but as the old adage says, there’s a silver lining in every cloud, with athletes have more time to hit standards, a lot less people will get the coronavirus to its advantages.

The Challenges

India have been aiming for a double-digit medal tally in Tokyo. 73 athletes have qualified till date and several more were expected to seal their berths in the coming months but all qualification tournaments had been called off in the aftermath of the pandemic. The process is likely to resume once the situation gets normal across the world.

Among them are the Indian shooters, who can be classified as the most affefcted and looked stronger going into Olympics with each Indian shooter capable of winning a medal. The shooters might feel slight sweet sorrow as they will be forced to wait for one year, which might disrupt their preparations and performance.

The shooters went through one Olympic trial before everything was shut down. Another issue could be when and how the shooters peak but according to recent reports that few coaches ready to provide shooting range simulators to practice at home during lockdown.

The postponement of Tokyo 2020 has put Indian national Hockey team in disappointment as both the men’s and women’s teams have shaped well over the course of the last year, winning big competitions such as the FIH Series Finals and the Olympic Qualifiers in front of the home crowd.

“I think the news is yet to sink in for us. We were mentally gearing up for our first match on 25th July, so the disappointment is surely there but it is important for us to now look at the positives,” Manpreet Singh said as reported by PTI.

Indian boxers secured an unprecedented nine spots for the country, definitely they would be a dejected as they have to reboot and redraw plans. The process of abandoning existing plans and chalking out fresh course of action is going to be the biggest challenge.

Indian weightlifter Mirabai Chanu was a medal hopeful in the women's 49kg division, looked almost certain to qualify. However, after the postponement, her coach's main concern is whether the qualification criteria has changed as well.

Coming to Tennis, the Tokyo Games would have been Leander Paes eighth and final Olympics. Now he’s is not sure his Olympic career is over, though continuing to train would require him to extend the leave of absence.

“Preparing for Olympics takes lots of hard work and then you are suddenly forced to deal with something like this pandemic you don’t know what to d0. My team and I will take a decision once this calamity has passed and I can assure you it won’t be an easy one,” Paes told Times Of India.

Indian wrestlers will be quite relaxed as lot more wrestlers can qualify for Tokyo Games which will have a positive effect on overall medal count. Foreign coaches return will also big boost for Indian wrestlers.

However, with athletes looking to peak toward July 2020, the change of dates has thrown their preparation schedule out of sync. Indian medal hopeful Vinesh Phoga said the postponement was her “worst fear" and the extended wait is going to e tougher than competing at the Games.

"This was every athletes' worst fear and it has come true. Everybody knows that competing in the Olympics is the toughest test for an athlete but I believe waiting for an opportunity to be on that stage is tougher! I don't really know what to say right now but inside me there is a rollercoaster of emotions!"

Vinesh however admitted that the measure was necessary and encouraged people to be stronger.

"Now is the time for all of us to be stronger than ever, keep fighting these extraordinary circumstances and believe with all our might that we will overcome this challenge.”

Several cores of Team India, including star shuttler Saina Nehwal and Achanata Sharath Kamal, are already in their early 30s which would make another year-long intense training a harder task for the seniors.

The Badminton World Federation's postponement of all the tournaments until April 26 and how they will calculate the rankings will determine the fate of Badminton players. The cut-off for Tokyo was to be based on the BWF ranking list April 30. Srikanth Kidambi is currently ranked 14; if today's rankings were considered he'd qualify for Tokyo, but not by the current qualifying norms. While Saina Nehwal is currently ranked 20; she won't make the cut on that, but if there were more tournaments she would have a chance to improve her ranking.

Sharath Kamal has already suggested that it would be challenging for him to be able to compete at an elite level so late in his career. The situation is likely the same for 38-year-old Mary Kom. However, many believe the very elite athletes will be able to find the drive to push themselves another year.

Silver Lining

While disappointment is the overriding emotion, with seversal seniors are hanging on to their best with yet another aging year but young athletes believe the postponement is a silver lining which gives them a pursuit of more time to master the discipline.

Paddler Sathiyan Gnanasekaran believes that the decision to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will provide the clarity the athletes needed even though they will be disappointed.

“If the Olympics is happening on time, the world rankings should ensure that Sharath Kamal and I make the cut easily. We have to see how it all shapes up. Things will become clearer in the coming months, It is too early to decide or jump the conclusions. But I am positive that I will be there whenever it is held” Sathiyan said to Times of India.

With another year at hand, some athletes would come into the peak of their career - such as 16-year-old Youth Olympic weightlifting champion Jeremy Lalrinnunga.

Neeraj Chopra had been away from the field for more than a year owing to an injury and qualified for the Olympics in his first tournament on his return earlier this year. He remains one of India’s biggest medal prospects at the Games but believes the decision to postpone was the right one.

“We should not even be talking about sports at the moment. Health is the top priority and I completely support the postponement. We athletes knew it was inevitable and that’s why it doesn’t come as a shock,” reported The Indian Express.

Indian Olympic Association (IOA) secretary-general Rajeev Mehta accepts a one-year postponement ‘might impact the career/qualification and plans of some athletes’ but said they will address those concerns in the coming months. “We would be also consulting with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in revising the preparation plans,” he said in a statement.

In hard times, the life of an Olympic athlete can be challenging and austere, and the training schedule can be relentless. Most athletes wanted a postponement, though even that has its challenges. Delay will have a significant impact on our athletes and the remaining qualification process. But even for those who have qualified, the preparation would have been far from ideal if the Olympics had gone ahead. Overall, another year shouldn’t be seen as an opportunity lost, but rather as a gain.

Would you say it was the right decision to postpone the Olympics by a year?

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