The Games prove it is still possible to unite: Abhinav Bindra
The pandemic-era Tokyo Olympics, says Beijing gold medallist Abhinav Bindra, with no spectators and strict bio-safety rules, will in some ways benefit young Indian athletes by taking away “the sensory overload” of a Games and making it more like just another, normal competition.
In a video conversation with Wknd, Bindra, a five-time Olympian, said, “You enter an Olympic Village, you see the athletes, feel the aura and the atmosphere that exists in an Olympic arena and in an Olympic competition. In that sensory overload you are going to cognitively decline and that’s going to affect your performance.”
Tokyo instead has stipulated that every athlete will have specific designated areas they can access, and must list their movements, activity plans and regular contacts (they will all also be tested daily). Athletes are also advised to eat on their own or two metres from the next person, and have been told to “avoid shouting, cheering and singing”.
“You’re pretty much locked into your room and are going to compete. So it’s much closer to a normal tournament that you’re used to competing in, so it should play up to our advantage and I’m being positive here,” Bindra said.
Bindra, who retired at the Rio Games in 2016, added that the 12-month postponement of the Olympics called for “flexiblity and adaptability” from athletes. They will now be allowed into Tokyo just five days prior to their event. “It’s not much time and you have to learn how to adapt, you have to prepare for jet lag in advance, start getting into the time zone a couple of days prior. And in Tokyo, you have to plan your day to remain in a good frame of mind,” Bindra said. “I think being flexible and open-minded and ready to adapt would have been my mantra. Go with the flow, because nobody knows what happens next… Just be open to change, ready to adapt a bit faster. The athletes that do that would probably be the ones who come through and perform well.”
Of the 15-strong Indian shooting contingent, 11 are first-time Olympians, eight are 25 or under, with three teenagers and two having just turned 20. Bindra’s advice to the Indian contingent, shooters and all, is to ignore the outcome and live in the moment. “Don’t think too much about the possibility that awaits you. Do not carry the baggage of the past. Live in that moment. Do not waste mental capacities reminding yourself of the desired outcome. Rather, put that mental output into the execution of the skill.”
Competing in an Olympics, “even though Tokyo is a very special and different Games, is the opportunity of a lifetime. So savour it and live it, and if you do that, it gives you the best possible chance to perform to the best of your abilities and frankly, that is all you can do. The outcome you can’t really script.”
Bindra said he did not expect a difference in the quality of performances. “Athletes have got an extra year to train and a lot of sporting action has resumed.” He estimated that “we have seen more than 250 championships and more than 30,000 athletes competing” and expected world-class performances across disciplines.
Post-retirement, Bindra said he hadn’t followed shooting competitions closely, relying only on media reports. Having seen the Olympic start lists recently, he added that the Indian contingent “on paper looks so, so good. We have eight athletes starting as World No. 1 and No. 2 in just the sport of shooting” and was looking forward to the mixed group competitions. “A gold medal match between India A vs India B would be wonderful.”
With the opening day of the Games coming up on July 24, Bindra said “what is nice to see is that a lot of conversations around the Games are now shifting to the athletes… We are all optimistic that it would be a safe and secure Games, and the concerns remain with everybody, but at least we are starting to hear about the athletes.”
To Bindra, the Games are more than just a sporting event, and in a disrupted, fraught world, Tokyo could stand for something bigger. He pointed out during the two weeks, “the Olympic Village will perhaps be the most unique place on the planet”. Athletes from 206 countries and the IOC’s Refugee Olympic Team “will be staying together in friendship and respect and intense competition”. “This spirit that is so unique to an Olympics is needed more than ever, especially after what we have seen in the last couple of years around the world with the pandemic, when there has been excessive nationalism and an excessive egoism.”
Tokyo, Bindra added, “has a real chance to get this Olympic spirit back and remind the world that it is still possible to unite.”
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