CHENNAI: EVEN as some elite athletes have left Patiala to train elsewhere, one contingent has decided to stay back inside the SAI centre there despite the mercury dipping to as low as 5 degrees Celsius during the nights.
It's the 400m squad, whose mixed team has already qualified for the Olympics. The hope is that both the men's and women's relay teams will also punch their ticket, with a few of the longer sprint specialists. One of those specialists who has won medals for the relay team — Arokia Rajiv — is slowly getting back to what he believes is his best ahead of the Olympics in 2021. By any measure, this has been a weird year for the 29-year-old. It began when he had just about recovered from a troublesome toe injury that kept him out of last year's World Championships.
During the pandemic he had to leave for his hometown of Tiruchirapalli because of a family emergency. After serving a mandatory quarantine, he took to training in his backyard. While he was home, Arokia's silver with the mixed team at the Asian Games in Jakarta was bumped up to gold because of a failed dope test by an athlete from Bahrain. He had to serve another two weeks of quarantine after returning to the national camp in Patiala around September. "I have been training in Patiala for the last three months," he tells this daily. "Right now, we are in something called a long season, so we are doing endurance and strength-based exercises. It involves us running 600m-800m races."
Even when he is speaking about training about Patiala, it's obvious to note that the training is conducted in the new normal thanks to the pandemic. "Forget outside, we aren't even allowed to go to the gate. Earlier, we would at least go to the nearby mall to see new movies."
But he isn't complaining. After three months of no outdoor training activity, he is just thankful that they are able to train normally. He also reveals that they have added baton exchange to their training programme. "We have started working on that now." The authorities had prohibited baton exchange in their standard operating procedures when they plotted the comeback of athletics, but it looks like they have relaxed regulations since.
Considering he hasn't run competitively for well over a year (April 2019 to be exact), it's understandable that the Tamil Nadu runner is itching to put on his spikes. However, he doesn't know when his comeback event will be. "Still waiting for official confirmation. Maybe we will hear something by January." For the time being, though, he is more than happy to focus on endurance and strength ahead of what's likely to be a big year.