Coaches back to drawing board after Tokyo postponement

The athletes are playing the waiting game for now but coaches involved with India’s Olympic-bound bunch have already put their thinking hats on to redraw the preparation plans a day after the Games got postponed to 2021.

The deadly COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented postponement as the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Japanese government and the athletes world over agreed that Olympics in July-August this year could not have gone ahead in the present circumstances.

“It is going to affect the shooters in a big way, especially the young ones who are appearing in their first Olympics. We have been preparing for the past three years. Having said that, we need to accept this without any complaints,” national pistol shooting coach Jaspal Rana said.

So far, close to 80 Indian athletes have qualified for the Games and the number is expected to swell once the qualifiers re-start.

Shooters are almost always considered India’s best bet for Olympic medals.

In Tokyo, 15 of them – eight men and seven women – will take aim for medals, including a bunch of exciting teenagers competing in their maiden Olympics.

“Life is precious and whatever is being done, it is being done keeping the best interest of the athletes in mind. And it is not just about athletes, it is also about the world,” said Rana, reiterating what almost everyone aware of the enormity of the crisis has been saying.

Nine boxers and an equal number of track and field athletes have also made the cut so far.

“I will redraw the plans only after the dates for the 2021 Games are out. We need to know when are the next qualifiers. We aren’t really worried because we have got qualification in nine out of 13 weight categories,” said boxing’s High Performance Director Santiago Nieva, referring to the five men and four women, who have already made the cut for Tokyo.

Boxing was scheduled to have a world qualifying event in May, which was postponed. India will have a shot at more Olympic slots whenever that tournament takes place.

“These are unreal times…the planning going forward would be focussed mostly on building up rather than qualifying. We are not as concerned as some others, who did not have enough qualifications in the Asian tournament (in Jordan),” Nieva said.

Deputy national athletics coach P Radhakrishnan Nair struck a note of skepticism on what can be achieved and feels a postponement till 2022 would have been better.

Indian athletics has not produced an Olympic medallist till date.

“It will be a challenge for us as far as planning of training and competition schedule is concerned. In this situation of lockdown I feel the athletics season is as good as over for this year,” Nair said, referring to the nationwide lockdown till April 15.

“I don’t think we can start doing anything before September or October. Then the seven-eight months before the Olympics (in 2021) may not be enough. Had it been 2022, it would have been better,” he added.

National badminton coach Pullela Gopichand went with the majority view and said he doesn’t expect any major glitch in the shuttlers’ build-up.

Going by current rankings, P V Sindhu, B Sai Praneeth and the men’s doubles pair of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy are assured of an Olympic berth.

“I think a year is a good time…we will have enough time to come back. So, I don’t think there will be any problems or negative effect on preparations,” he asserted.

Another strong medal bet for India is wrestling and Vinesh Phogat, one of the biggest stars among the Indian hopefuls, will take the break positively, according to her coach Woller Akos.

“We need to look at the positive side with Vinesh. We have got one more year to prepare against the best opponents,” the Hungarian told PTI, asserting that the Asian Games champion is more than ready for any challenge even right now.

“An athlete needs to be a maximalist. She (Vinesh) is ready to follow our dreams and preparation,” he added while talking about the lone woman among four wrestlers to have qualified for Tokyo.

National weightlifting coach Vijay Sharma said he will have to rework his planning to ensure that the one year in hand is put to best use.

Only former world champion Mirabai Chanu is currently assured of a Tokyo ticket among the lifters.

“We will have to plan everything again now. We are now waiting for guidelines on the new qualifying system, accordingly, we will plan our training,” he said.

“With the cancellation of the Asian Championships (earlier) we changed our plan a bit but now with the Olympic postponement, it will change completely. We will try and find the best way to benefit from this situation,” he added.

Rising Table Tennis player G Sathiyan’s coach S Raman, a former national champion, welcomed the postponement.

Based on current rankings, Sathiyan is eligible for the Tokyo men’s doubles event along with veteran A Sharath Kamal.

“Right decision and should not have come later than now as it would have confused players…You don’t want panic training and the resultant virus among community of athletes,” he said.