Desperate for full-time training but unsure of safety, Pooja Dhanda bides her time

Pooja herself managed to get a mat laid at home way back in March and has a local wrestler staying with her to ensure she doesn’t go rusty.

With the Wrestling Federation of India indicating that there would be fresh trials in 2021, Pooja has another chance to make the cut for Tokyo. (File photo)   -  PTI

For four months now, Pooja Dhanda has been pushing herself, trying to stay fit within the confines of her home in Hisar with a combination of mat training, make-shift exercise routines and yoga.

But although the wrestler admits full-time training cannot be replicated at home despite best efforts, she is also concerned about safety. “The first month was very difficult because we are not used to being home for so long. Even when we did, there would be a fixed training routine. This time it’s very different because we cannot step out and, to be honest, even our families weren’t sure how to handle the change.

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“But now every wrestler has developed some system of training while staying safe at their respective place. To now suddenly break it up for a camp without any guarantees of safety doesn’t sound right,” the 26-year old told Sportstar.

Pooja herself managed to get a mat laid at home way back in March and has a local wrestler staying with her to ensure she doesn’t go rusty. “With no surety of everyone strictly following the guidelines, there is no point in taking the risk of coming in contact with outsiders even at the local akhada. Even the boy I train with stays very close but hasn’t gone home. In such times, we have to see how the federation or SAI plans to organise everything,” she added.

Having already lost almost the whole of 2019 to injury and originally out of the reckoning for Tokyo Olympics after losing in the selection trials for the qualifiers, Pooja is understandably in a tough place. Winning silver at the 2018 Commonwealth games and bronze at the World Championships same year, Pooja was in good form but injuries and rehabilitation meant she missed the 2019 Worlds, followed by defeat to 18-year old Anshu Malik in the 57kg trials for the now-rescheduled Asian Qualifiers. Anshu won bronze at the Asian Championships in February to make things tougher for Pooja.

With the Wrestling Federation of India indicating that there would be fresh trials in 2021, Pooja has another chance to make the cut for Tokyo. But with a new lot of juniors becoming eligible next year, it would also increase competition in what is already one of the most crowded weight categories. The federation is hoping for an August restart to national camps.

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“A lot of sports have resumed training but unlike others, wrestlers cannot train properly without a sparring partner. Even a contact sport like boxing is different because boxers can train individually. In that sense, we are the most desperate to get back to full-time training. But with all the restrictions, I am not sure if that will be possible even if there is a camp. Of course, if it becomes mandatory then there will be no option. Let us wait and watch,” she said.

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