Mission Olympics: Uncertain hour for Indian athletes in COVID-19 times

With competitions cancelled and the Tokyo Olympics 2021 doubtful, it's a big worry for everybody. The global pandemic has played havoc with the athletics calendar all over the world.

“I will be competing in the February 25 Indian GP and the one on March 5. That is what our coach has decided,” says javelin thrower Annu Rani, who finished eight at the last World Championships in Doha in 2019.   -  AP

The Indian athletics season is scheduled to begin with the Indian Grand Prix-1 in Patiala on February 18 but Annu Rani, the women’s javelin throw national record holder, is not planning to participate in the opener.

“I will be competing in the February 25 Indian GP and the one on March 5. That is what our coach has decided,” said Rani who finished eight at the last World Championships in Doha in 2019.

Long jump national record holder M. Sreeshankar will also be skipping the season-opener but plans to attend the next two. “I've got some exams till February 17. We were actually preparing for the IGP’s first leg which was earlier scheduled for February 12 but since it got postponed, we have changed our training programme and we are now preparing for February 25,” said Sreeshankar.

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Both Rani and Sreeshankar will be going all out to qualify for the rescheduled Olympics which begins in Tokyo on July 23. The Olympic qualification doors in athletics reopened, after a long break forced by the coronavirus pandemic, on December 1, 2020.

Worried lot

Meanwhile P. T. Usha is planning to keep her trainees, including star quartermiler Jisna Mathew, away from the first three GP meets in Patiala.

“We are scared to travel since Patiala is far away. And Covid has not gone away, it is still there. Since the Asian Championships (in China, in May) have been cancelled and the Youth Asians (Kuwait, in March) have been postponed, there is no need to rush competitions,” said Usha.

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“What if we catch Covid...we can qualify but only if we are alive we can compete (in the Olympics). They say athletes will not be affected much if they get Covid as their immunity levels are high, but I hear that it affects the lungs badly. And I hear that you don’t come out of it fast. If something of that sort happens, it could lead to a situation where the athlete will not be able to continue sport.”

Long jump national record holder M. Sreeshankar is positive that the Olympics will happen. “Most of the countries have started the vaccination process. It has started here also, so I’m hundred per cent sure the Olympics will be held,” said the youngster.   -  AP

 

Usha plans to enter her athletes in the Federation Cup, also in Patiala, which is scheduled to have a March 15 start. But she would be happy if the Athletics Federation of India delays the start of the season by another month or so.

“Since we had waited so long, I had suggested an April start to competitions. Anyway, the Olympic Games are not being held in March or April. And the priority should be to give the Covid vaccine to top athletes who will be representing the country,” said Usha.

Plans sent for a toss

The global pandemic has played havoc with the athletics calendar all over the world. It has also messed up the national body AFI’s plans to send the javelin throwers, including Asian Games and Commonwealth Games champion Neeraj Chopra, who is also the brightest prospect to win independent India’s first athletics medal at the Olympics, to South Africa for training and competition.

“They are still training in Bhubaneswar. We were planning to send them to South Africa in the first week of December, then dropped it. Then the first week of January, and again dropped it. We had applied for visa but so far there is no reply from the embassy,” said Radhakrishnan Nair, the Chief National Coach.

“Now, the AFI is not interested in sending them to South Africa because of the new Covid issue.”

Plans to send the quartermilers and 4x400m relay runners to Poland have also been hit. “They are all training in Patiala. We have plans to send them abroad but what can we do, we can’t say whether these plans will succeed. We had a lot of plans but all of them have been aborted. We were planning to send them to Poland and to go for the Asian Championships from there,” said Radhakrishnan.

“But with this coronavirus situation, all plans have been aborted with competitions getting cancelled. It is not specific to India but throughout the world. In China, the Covid situation is slightly up and in other European countries too.

“In Europe, many competitions were to be held but all have been cancelled. The Asian Relays (in Thailand) have been postponed, the Asian Race Walking in Japan cancelled and the Asian Championships in China cancelled. So the problem is not only for India.”

P. T. Usha is planning to keep her trainees, including star quartermiler Jisna Mathew, away from the first three Grand Prix meets in Patiala. “We are scared to travel since Patiala is far away. And Covid has not gone away, it is still there. Since the Asian Championships (in China, in May) have been cancelled and the Youth Asians (Kuwait, in March) have been postponed, there is no need to rush competitions,” says Usha.   -  B. Velankanni Raj

 

With competitions getting cancelled one after another, there is also a big worry whether the Olympics will be held this year.

“I have not given up on that. But with many Japanese themselves feeling that the Olympics should either be postponed or cancelled, doubts have begun to grow in my mind,” said Usha.

However, Sreeshankar is positive that the Olympics will happen.

“Most of the countries have started the vaccination process. It has started here also, so I’m hundred per cent sure the Olympics will be held,” said the youngster.

“The vaccine has come now and we have time, so I hope everything is good,” said Rani.

With so much uncertainty regarding the Olympics, clearly it is a tough time for everybody. “I can’t say anything on that (whether the Olympics will happen). But we — the coaches, athletes and the federation — are all focused for the Olympics. And our preparations are all going on hundred per cent for the qualification,” said Radhakrishnan.