Indian athletes look to book Tokyo Olympics berth at the earliest

With things changing at a very fast pace owing to the coronavirus crisis, there is a sense of urgency among athletes to make the cut for July's Olympics.

India's national long jump record holder M. Sreeshankar during training in Palakkad (File Photo).   -  SHAJI MULLOKKARAN

A lot of things could have been running through M. Sreeshankar's mind as he took his flight from Coimbatore for the Indian track and field season-opener, the Indian Grand Prix-1 which begins in Patiala on Friday.

With things changing at a very fast pace owing to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, there is a sense of urgency among athletes to make the cut for July's Olympics. Federations have been cancelling or postponing major events, signifying the importance for Indians to book the Tokyo ticket at the earliest.

M. Sreeshankar, the long jump national record holder, is one of the athletes who are keen to make the Tokyo cut (entry standard 8.22m) in the season-opener in Patiala.

“I'm planning to go all out and qualify in the first competition itself. I'm feeling really good, everything is going as per plan,” the 20-year-old said in a chat with Sportstar.

“I've rectified all the mistakes I had made last season, everything is looking solid. I just need to get the right jump at the right moment.”

There is a lot of doubt whether the Tokyo Olympics would happen this year and that is another thing that could be tormenting athletes.

READ | 'Putting us in danger' - athlete concerns grow ahead of Olympics

While Sreeshankar is plotting an assault on his long jump national record of 8.20m, triple jumper U. Karthik is tuning himself to produce the biggest jumps of his life.

“I'm looking at 17.20m, that's the target. I'm doing close to 17m in training,” said the 26-year-old, the National Open and South Asian Games champion, from Patiala.

“Yes, there is a sense of urgency and that's why the goal is to get the Olympic qualification standard of 17.14m in the first competition itself.”

Last year was Karthik's best, he had a personal best of 16.80m in Lucknow in August and he even shocked Asian Games champion Arpinder Singh in a Grand Prix leg in Patiala in September. The 26-year-old, who is coached by Romanian Bedros Bedrosian, feels this season will be better.

“My speed has improved and I feel I've become more explosive. And I used to have a problem getting my balance right during the jump phase...that has been set right,” he said.

Meanwhile, Arpinder plans to open his season with the Federation Cup in April. “But my main focus will be the inter-State Nationals in June because I've made some changes in my technique. I need a little more time,” said Arpinder who trains under P.B. Jaikumar in Thiruvananthapuram.

But there is talk doing the rounds that the third leg of the Indian GP in New Delhi on March 29 and even the Federation Cup (April 10-13 in Patiala) could be postponed or cancelled. Of course, that will depend on how deadly the coronavirus situation is during that period.

But Arpinder is not worried. “I don't think the Federation Cup will be postponed, I think it will happen on time,” he added.