CHENNAI: In February 2020, Udayan Mane was mentally preparing himself to represent India at the Olympics. Having just won a PGTI event, the golfer was inside the top 60 in the Race To Tokyo. He remained in the top 60 in that particular list for well over a year.
But with a paucity of PGTI events since the turn of the year — there has just been three with the last finishing in the third week of March — Mane hasn’t had the opportunity to pick up ranking points. The net effect? He’s now on the replacement list, depending on others to withdraw to have a chance. “There is definitely a feeling of helplessness about the whole situation,” he tells this daily when asked to sum up his feelings.
Currently World No 309, he doesn’t have a card on the points rich European Tour or the PGA Tour. Because the Asian Tour — where Mane has a card — is yet to restart since the pandemic began last February, he is been reduced to sending letters to a number of organisers in the hope of scoring a few events to climb back into the top 60. However, he’s been met with disappointments.
“I spoke with a few of them but none of them have world ranking points up for grabs so I can’t really do much at the moment.” He’s also been speaking to PGTI but the news isn’t positive.
“They told me there are plans to restart the season from July but the cut off for the Olympics is June 21.” The 30-year-old turns philosophical when he speaks about his coping mechanism. “But then this won’t be the last Olympics, another one will come along in three years’ time. That’s what you keep telling yourself.”
The golfer is in a growing list of Indian athletes who are on the fringes of making the Olympics cut but with travel restrictions and a paucity of competitions, they have no other option but to stay in optimum physical fitness and hope for a few lucky breaks.
Another person who is in the same boat as Mane is Srihari Nataraj. The swimmer, who has a ‘B’ time, needs to go under Olympic Qualification Time (OQT), otherwise known as the ‘A’ time, is confident that he will meet that standard. However, he is currently in lockdown in Bengaluru. “I am taking care of my physical fitness and just been staying home,” he says. The 20-year-old doesn’t know if having a ‘B’ time against his name is an advantage.
“I don’t really know if having it is an advantage. I haven’t really spoken to the Swimming Federation of India (SFI) with respect to meets. I have left that to my coach.”
The thing is the backstroke specialist won’t even get access to international events. Even if he manages to leave the country, he may first to quarantine for an x amount of days before events. The situation is somewhat similar for the judokas. The Worlds, in Budapest early next month, is a bonanza in terms of ranking points but there is a caveat. Travel restrictions.
“The participation is subject to government’s approval and existing Covid-19 protocols in Hungary,” a JFI official had told this daily. It’s so uncertain that one of the judokas who is in contention to take part said talking about participation will only be firmed up if and when they land in Budapest. If the golfers, swimmers and judokas can at least afford to hope against hope, the plight of the badminton players are worse. Take Ashwini Ponnappa for example.
With as many as three badminton events postponed, there are no more qualifying events. As a result, Ponnappa will miss the mixed doubles slot by less than 7000 ranking points.
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and she has 37,497 points. But she can’t do anything about it. They just have to hope against hope. And pray for a miracle.