One full year of agony and uncertainty, caused by the coronavirus-related disruptions in the world of sport, ended in cheer for many Indian sportspersons in recent days as they qualified for this year’s Tokyo Olympics. The pandemic played havoc with the schedule of sportspersons, whose plans are usually charted with clockwork precision — when and how much to train, when to peak. For a large part of the past 12 months, athletes were unable to train or compete.
Thus, our athletes, table tennis players and fencer who qualified for the Olympics in the past few days deserve praise for keeping their spirits high and their game sharp. Bhavani Devi, the first-ever Indian fencer to make it to the Olympics, practised alone on the terrace of her house in Chennai, her coach in Italy watching online and giving instructions. As restrictions eased, she travelled to Italy. G Sathiyan, one of the table tennis players to qualify for Tokyo, chose to play in the Polish league, getting there after a one-month wait for a visa. Five weeks in Tokyo helped him polish his game, and despite carrying an injury, he got his Olympic berth. During the lockdown, discus-thrower Kamalpreet Kaur trained hard at home, using a double bed for weight training and flower pots as dumbbells — it paid off as she broke the national record in qualifying for Tokyo. Long jumper Murali Sreeshankar, who as a kid insisted on sleeping in a jersey signed by Usain Bolt, worked on his body strength and speed during the restrictions. The 21-year-old broke the national record to qualify for the Olympics. Neeraj Chopra, who had qualified back in January 2020, had no event to compete in over a year. Early this month, he broke his own national mark. Months of inactivity seem to have left Chopra, India’s best medal hope in track and field in Tokyo, hungry.
These are stories that inspire. The pandemic crushed the Tokyo dreams of gymnast Dipa Karmakar and several boxers as tournaments were cancelled. Some of India’s badminton stars won’t make it because they won’t have enough events to improve their rankings. There’s something to both cheer and sadden in sport — the spate of recent qualifications outweigh the sad bit.