For 16-year-old Madhuri Patel, restricting her training to mostly physical fitness for over three months is the best way to stay in touch with wrestling.
The teenager from Borgaon in Khandwa region of Madhya Pradesh can hardly change the situation arising out of the COVID-19 outbreak. In fact, nobody can.
“Madhuri, like all the wrestlers, is not able to do sparring and practise other techniques. For a youngster, every day is valuable. The time lost now will not come back. It’s like going back one or two years in her game,” said Madhuri’s father Jagdish Patel, a wrestler who initiated his daughter to the sport.
“The schedule got spoiled. Since there is no camp, the whole burden of her diet is on me now. The stoppage came when she was really doing well. Now, this limited training will affect her speed,” said Jagdish.
Madhuri, a National School Games medallist and a national sub-junior medallist, is helpless. “I am doing my training at my village. Training without a partner makes a difference. We don’t know when we will get back to normal times. For now, we need to take care of ourselves,” said Madhuri.
Raghu Panjare, a well-known coach of the region who also trains Madhuri and several other youngsters, prefers complete training. “Right now we can only do physical fitness. The kids are doing well from that aspect — their height and weight is increasing. But there is a big difference when you are not training properly,” said Panjare.
Asian Championships silver medallist Jitender Kumar, an elite freestyle wrestler who aspires to beat the challenge from the likes of Sushil Kumar, Narsingh Yadav and Parveen Rana to reach the Olympic qualifier, misses the days he spent at the national camp.
“In the national camp, we have the best of wrestlers from the country. You get to spar with a variety of partners. There is a difference in training with limited facilities and training at the camp. More often than not, at the camp you prepare keeping a tournament in mind.
“Our federation has taken the right decision in these times as ours is a contact sport and the virus can spread rapidly. I am sure the federation will take the right decision at the right time,” said Jitender, who is currently staying with three-time World Championships medallist Bajrang Punia to focus on his training.
Top wrestlers like two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar, Worlds medal winner and Asian champion Ravi Kumar Dahiya and Worlds silver medallist Deepak Punia are making the most of the facilities available to them.
Elite women wrestlers, such as Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, Divya Kakran and Sarita Mor, are also restricted to their respective homes and trying to do their best with the available resources.
National coach Vinod Kumar is as clueless as anyone else regarding resumption of the camp. “The situation is the same all over the world. Wrestlers are training on their own and doing limited training and online classes. But training on the mat is altogether a different experience,” said Vinod Kumar.
According to Vinod Kumar, life of a wrestler, and a sportsperson in particular, has become aimless without competitions which have been either postponed or cancelled due to the coronavirus.
“The continuity is gone because of this. There is no camp, no participation in any event. There is no aim for which a wrestler would work for and prepare. This affects the motivation as well.”
Vinod Kumar said the biggest loss is for the wrestlers who are approaching the end of their career. “Think of those athletes, who are targeting to compete and get a medal in the Olympics to end their career on a high. The Olympics has been pushed by a year and now there are doubts whether it can be held next year as well.
“On the other hand, the younger athletes are losing out on crucial time when they could have improved their game and graduated to the elite level.
“There is so much uncertainty and no one really knows when things are going to start.”
Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) assistant secretary Vinod Tomar notes a sense of apprehension as far as COVID-19 is concerned. “We need the clearance from the Sports Authority of India (SAI) to restart a camp. Right now the focus is on the elite wrestlers. Several wrestlers are happy training at their own places with partners, who live with them like family members.
“We cannot begin camps in Delhi, Sonipat or Lucknow as a lot of COVID-19 cases are being reported from these areas. We are waiting for some time before taking a decision,” said Tomar.
According to Tomar, wrestlers will have to wait for some time to witness resumption of competitions. “Indications are that the United World Wrestling (UWW) may hold the World Championships towards the end of the year. Right now, it is not possible as many countries are still having a lot of cases. A host nation may not give visas to several athletes like we did (not allow the Chinese wrestlers due to COVID-19) during the Asian Championships in February,” said Tomar.
For the moment, the policy seems to be ‘wait and watch.’
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