With Olympics pushed by a year and the lockdown forcing sporting events to a halt, things have gone haywire for Indian athletes. In spite of the obstacle, the Indian Archers, who've found themselves stuck in across the country, have accepted the situation but kept their focus on the Olympics.
India has 29 states and encompasses a huge area, with each corner of the country separated by thousands of miles. So naturally, our athletes hail from different regions, with them flocking to the place of action for training purposes, because the infrastructure has been confined to a select number of areas. So when the pandemic struck, the situation was haywire for them, as they huffed and puffed to try and take the earliest flight back to their base, but not everyone managed to do that. The travel ban, the last-minute cancellation of flights and trains have denied many a passage back, leaving them stuck in alien territories.
The tale of the Indian Men’s Archery team, which has already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, has been somewhat similar, with Tarundeep Rai, Atanu Das, and Pravin Jadhav encountering exclusive situations during the lockdown. The senior-most member of the squad, Tarundeep Rai, was supposed to get back home but was barred from taking the flight at the last moment and is now stuck at the Pune Institute since May, while Atanu Das has been staying at his Kolkata residence throughout the lockdown. Pravin Jadhav, on the other hand, did not want to head back to his small town, in Satara, because of a lack of practice facilities with him happy to stay back at the Army Institute, in Pune.
It has been more than one year since the veteran Archer stepped inside his residence in Sikkim, with Tarundeep convincing his family that he’s going to return only after he completes his national duty at the Tokyo Games. But, fate had other plans with the Covid-19 pandemic pushing back the Olympics by a year. Even though it was a disappointment for the contingent, Tarundeep’s eyes gleamed as he would finally get some time to spend time in his Namchi abode, amongst the mountains in the eastern state. When everything was set, the travel ban played the villain as he was denied the flight back, which meant that the Archer was locked at the National Army Institute, in Pune, for the entire lockdown period.
“I was expecting to spend some time with my family, but that never happened, I haven’t been home for more than a year. And because of the Olympics I already informed my family that I wasn’t coming back before the Games. But with the Tokyo Games postponed, it was a great opportunity for me to spend some time with my family, it was like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but I missed that,” said Tarundeep Rai, during a chat with SportsCafe.
Like the proverbial glass was half-full, likewise, staying at the Army Institute has had a positive effect on the Tokyo-bound Archer. With training facilities and ranges at his disposal inside the perimeter, it ensured him unlimited practice hours throughout the lockdown phase. Detached from the outside world, Tarundeep’s surroundings inside the Institute still unchanged and his training regime, constant, with him sweating it out to bring back a medal in his third Olympics. But, one thing has changed for sure, the range is now haunted, with only a few Archers practising day in and out, because of the impact of the deadly virus.
“The positive side of the lockdown is that I am stuck here (Army Institute, Pune), my routine continues the same, and it doesn’t feel that I am in a lockdown. I stay here only, the range is always open for me, I can do my training. It’s not that I’ve decelerated my normal training regime because of the health crisis. My routine has been mostly similar, just that there are no Archers right now, I go alone, or maybe two-three are there and we maintain social distance during training,” added the Arjuna Award winner.
Atanu Das’ tale is contrasting, as the Olympian has enjoyed the comforts of his home for more than three months alongside with his fiancée and fellow archer Deepika Kumari. The duo mainly spends their day in meditation, yoga, fitness training and also shooting at their makeshift short-range inside the premises. Yes, they’ve actually set up a range within the apartment, which speaks volumes of their thirst for glory, the efforts to secure a podium finish in the biggest stage. Atanu believes he’s one of the luckier ones to remain active in the lockdown, while others might lose out vital time.
“Some of them have practice ground, which is the best privilege during lockdown. Some of them have targets at home (like me and Deepika) to just stay active during the lockdown. And at the same time some of them don’t have any privilege to shoot a single arrow during the lockdown. Which is very hard to maintain themselves. Of course, training at home and training at a proper outdoor is a huge different thing, which matters a lot. In my home I can only stay active in my sports,” said Atanu Das, from his Kolkata residence.
Although he feels that the current situation is faced everywhere, so there’s nothing to complain about and it should be accepted as a challenge. It was interesting how Atanu stressed on the fact that mental strength is very important during the one-of-a-kind unprecedented crisis, which he believes will help an athlete to recover once things get back to normal. But, he has always been in touch with his teammates and is eagerly waiting to get back to train together once again but till then he is keeping the ball rolling.
“Of course, training at home and training at a proper outdoor is a hugely different thing, which matters a lot. In my home, I can only stay active in my sports. It depends on their mental strength. If someone is very strong mentally then he/she will come back very quickly after a normal situation. The postponement doesn’t matter. There is always a chance to win medals in the Olympics. We just have to do very good and strong teamwork and a leap of faith. Yes, but due to Covid-19, there is a risk of travelling. So we have to stay active and ready to accept any situation. Yes, I am in touch with my teammates. And I am desperately waiting to train with my team,” informed the Olympian.
The third cog in the wheel, Pravin Jadhav, had postponed his visit back to Satara, his hometown, due to the fear of falling out of practice and losing vital time ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. It is also a reason why he rarely goes back home. The Archer's father works as a construction labourer, while his mother has taken up a job of farm help. Even though he preferred to stay in Pune, Pravin made sure that he provided his family with financial aid, via a friend’s bank account, to help them sail through the pandemic.
"My father works as a construction labourer and my mother takes up jobs as a farm help, but right now neither can go to work. Thankfully I was able to send them money through a friend's bank account for supplies. I owe it to my job in the army (havildar at 83 Armored regiment) which I found because of archery. Back in my village, there are no facilities to train at all. Being away from the sport even for a week really brings my whole level down to zero. It's why I go home scarcely," said Pravin Jadhav, as reported by ESPN.
Meanwhile, in Pune, his training regime is intact with him sparring against veteran-cum-teammate Tarundeep Rai, with the range always at their disposal. To him, there could not have been any better place to get stranded than the Army Institute, in Pune, during the lockdown. In accordance with the social distancing norms, Pravin shoots around 300 arrows per day and is expecting to reach the target between 500-600 shots per day soon.
“I am lucky to be spending time with three established archers – Rai (Tarundeep), Viswash, and Sukhchain Singh – during the lockdown. Even though we are maintaining social distance and training with shorter targets (about 10m-15m), it’s good to be in training mode. Right now, I am shooting around 300 arrows per day. I need to shoot between 500 and 600 arrows per day to get back my rhythm. I can achieve that in about two weeks,” stated the Archer, during an interaction with Sportstar.
There’s no doubt that the pandemic has disrupted normalcy amongst the Indian athletes, but what’s interesting is that they’ve still managed to stay active even when odds are heavily stacked against them. With the Olympics pushed by a year, their aspirations haven't taken a blow, nor has it dwindled by an inch. Their commitment to the game remains constant, come what may. They are keeping the hopes alive of 1.4 billion people when the greatest sporting event takes place, in Tokyo, hopefully, in 2021.