CHENNAI: Jasleen Singh Saini, India’s top judoka, was training in Tbilisi when Georgia saw a lockdown being imposed. Having reached there in the second week of March, Saini was preparing for the Olympics with Georgian coach Mamuka Kizilashvili, when training halls across the city were closed down. Left with no option, Saini decided to travel to Akhmeta, his coach’s native place. He has been staying there since, waiting to come back to Gurdaspur (Punjab), his hometown.
"We trained for a week before the lockdown halted everything. Fortunately, the coach’s town was just a two-hour drive away from Tbilisi. We reached there in time and avoided any trouble," the 2019 Commonwealth Championship gold-medallist told this daily.
The 66kg judoka even approached the Indian Embassy for help. But he was told to wait till international flights resume. "Officials there told me that they are expecting resumption in June. I am in touch with them. But can do nothing more than to wait for the right time."
Had Olympics been held in time, Saini would have qualified. As per the original schedule, he’d already secured a continental quota. The top 10 judokas (point-wise) from each continent were supposed to make the cut. Saini, currently World No 56, is ninth in Asia.
"I have the most points in the country across all weight categories, and had secured the continental quota. But now it’s open for all others. Sushila Devi, Vijay Kumar Yadav and Avtar Singh are not far behind. They will give me a tough competition for qualification."
Saini’s trip to Georgia is funded by Inspire Institute of Sport, a part of JSW Group. "I am not worried about expenses. They’re being taken care of by JSW. I am in constant touch with my family. Cases here are compared to India, so my parents are not worried," said the 2019 South Asian Games gold-medallist.
Speaking on the postponement of Olympics to 2021, Saini remarked: "Now I have more time to prepare. I cannot speak about future qualifying events, but the postponement will certainly help athletes prepare better once we deal with the outbreak. I train every morning and evening. My coach is with me, which is a blessing in disguise given the situation."