The announcement of the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu reopening centres and private academies was eagerly awaited by all the top sportspersons in Chennai especially after four months of no action due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hence, a decent turnout of athletes was expected at the Nehru Stadium on Friday. But, barely 15 turned up with their coaches. 

“They (athletes) are still scared. The parents are unwilling to send their children, afraid that they will catch the virus. I hope things get better though,” said Wayne Peppin, former international long jumper and now coach.

Peppin said his wards maintain two-metre distance between each other while running and wear a mask once they finish their training.

He added that though his wards have been doing strength training at their homes, their endurance has gone down, and it will take four to five months to get back to their peak fitness.

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Peppin’s ward Ruthika Saravanan, the defending national junior (u-16) 100m champion, said it would be difficult to repeat the act in the national junior championships scheduled in October in Ranchi, but she would train hard to win a medal.

Ruthika’s elder sister Harshini -- a silver medallist in long jump in the 2020 Khelo India Games -- has been doing strength training at home. “I stay in an apartment where I do my running and stretching. While I run in the parking lot, for endurance I lift my sister and go up down eight floors of my apartment six to seven times,” she said. Harshini, however, added that the cement flooring at home hurt her shin and knee.   

Harshini said the pandemic had come at a time while she was recovering from the hamstring injury she suffered in September 2019. “It was a lucky break for me. And now I am getting ready for the forthcoming events,” she said. 

Coach P. Vignesh said it will take some time for his wards to get back to their previous form. “Long jumper R. Suriya was jumping 7m earlier, now he is hardly touching 5m,” he said.

Nehru Stadium Officer P. Venkatesh is hopeful that more athletes will start training in the coming weeks. “There is more awareness. We have 150 ID card holders, who are above 18. I am sure it will get better,” he said.