CHENNAI: India's athletics contingent will have a week in Tokyo to get a taste of the atmosphere at the Olympics – even if subdued due to the pandemic – before they get down to business. The athletics events begin from July 30 onwards, with the men’s 3000m steeplechase heats kicking off proceedings. With the exception of star javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, who is travelling directly from his training base in Sweden, the athletes assembled in Delhi on Friday to leave for Tokyo.
The Tokyo Games will be their first international competition in more than one-and-a-half years. Aside from Neeraj, who has competed and trained in Europe over the last few weeks, the athletes have been confined to training at the national camps in India and getting a handful of domestic meets. It isn’t an ideal situation, but Athletics Federation of India (AFI) president Adille Sumariwalla wants no excuses. He pointed to Indian Grand Prix-4 and the national inter-state championship, both of which took place in Patiala last month, as ample preparation for the athletes.
“They have had competitions just last month. Everybody doesn’t get to always compete outside India. They have competed enough here. We had foreign competitors from 3-4 countries that came to Patiala. The athletes are fit and raring to go. There should be no excuses from the athletes. The government has spent crores of rupees. There is no option now but to perform,” Sumariwalla told this daily on Friday.
His views were echoed by Raj Singh Bishnoi, senior executive director of NIS in Patiala. “Due to the pandemic, athletes could not have exposure trips overseas. Only Neeraj could get training outside India. But we had events in Patiala itself to give the athletes the best chance of making the cut and preparing. We hope for the best now,” he said.
As much as there is excitement among the athletes, there is also a sense of relief now that they are finally heading to Tokyo. Quarter-miler Muhammad Anas says that it was unsettling to just stay in the camp and continue training for much of the last one-and-a-half years without having international competitions to spur them on.
“There was very little to look forward to in terms of competitions due to Covid. It was hard to just be in the camp and train,” he moaned, “When some of the international meets were cancelled recently at the last moment, it was very disappointing.”
Coaches will be suspended if athletes don’t perform: AFI
On Friday morning, the athletics federation was forced into an emergency meeting after long-jumper M Sreeshankar and race walker KT Irfan underwhelmed with their performances at the fitness trials in Bengaluru. Sumariwalla informed that the federation was not in favour of the two athletes going, but they have decided to trust the word of their coaches. If the performance is below par in Tokyo, the AFI boss warned that the coaches will be suspended.
“I don’t know why there was a dip in performance in the trials. Their coaches are confident that Sreeshankar and Irfan will do well. We have taken an undertaking from them. The coaches will get suspended if athletes don’t perform. On the basis of the recommendation of the coaches, we are taking them. Left by ourselves, the committee is not happy to let them go because their performance is very poor,” he said.
With inputs from Martin Joseph