HT Brunch Cover Story: Our silver lining with an eye on gold
Arguably, some of the people most disappointed last year by the restrictions imposed for the pandemic were the athletes qualified to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
A chance at an Olympics medal comes only once in four years, and for badminton player PV Sindhu, who during the 2016 Rio Olympics became the first Indian woman to win a silver medal, the loss of the chance to go for the gold in Tokyo was almost too disappointing to bear.
True, the Tokyo Olympics will now commence this July, but pandemics are unpredictable and the athletes who will participate still feel a certain amount of stress and uncertainty.
Sindhu, however, has refused to let anything weaken her morale. Not only has she managed to remain fit, she is also the only female Indian badminton player to have made the cut for Tokyo 2021.
“The most important thing is to be thankful that we are safe and healthy,” says the 25-year-old player from Hyderabad. “Last year’s lockdown was a very unusual situation for me. I have never been home for such a long stretch. But while it was a pleasant break in a way, I continued to train at home, following the schedule that my trainer sent me, and even learnt new techniques in my sport.”
Sindhu is delighted with the opportunity to learn to play better. “Generally we go for tournaments, then come back and rectify mistakes and then go for tournaments again,” she explains. “This does not give us much time to learn new techniques or skills. I have used the time I got in the lockdown well and I’m very happy about it.”
The new normal
Sindhu did not spend the whole of 2020 at home: once the lockdown was lifted, she was back on the court. But things had changed drastically.
“Getting back to playing on the court was great, but we had to adapt to playing without any spectators which was a bit strange at first,” she recalls. “And then we had to stay in bio-bubbles, which meant we just went to the stadium, played and returned to our hotel, with no permission to go outdoors. These restrictions were depressing at times, but we realised that they were for our own good and that staying safe was the most important thing to do.”
Early this year, when the pandemic appeared to be on its way out, Sindhu was busy with tournaments and even reached the final of the Swiss Open and the semi-final at the All England Open in March. But then the harsher and deadlier second wave of the pandemic began, forcing another lockdown amid news of deaths and healthcare crises all over the country.
“With bad news coming from everywhere, every time someone called, our first thought would be to wonder whether it was bad news again,” says Sindhu. “Fear gripped us all. People were losing their jobs, salaries were being cut and it was not easy to stay unaffected.”
One of the worst things Sindhu faced was the loss of Badminton World Federation (BWF) referee Vemuri Sudhakar due to Covid-19.
Having known him personally since she was a child, Sindhu was heartbroken. “He was a very well-known referee and was respected by all,” she says. “My father knew him very well, so when we learnt that he had Covid, we were worried and remained in regular touch with him. After a week or so, when my father spoke to him, he sounded much better and his condition was stable, which gave us a lot of relief. But then just two days later, we were shocked to hear that he was no more. He did not deserve to go so soon.”
The only thing that got Sindhu through the horror that was the second wave of the pandemic was her focus on preparing for the Olympics.
“It was not easy to stay calm and positive but one thing we all needed to understand was that this situation is not happening only in India but all over the world and so we are all in this together,” says Sindhu. “The only thing to do is stay positive, be brave, fight the virus and not give in to fear. Fortunately, we have the vaccines now and it’s important for everyone to get vaccinated.”
As a sportsperson, Sindhu is trained to focus and it is this focus that gets her through tough times. “In such an uncertain situation in which the dynamics change every minute, the best thing to do is keep busy. It’s not that everybody is dying. A lot of people are surviving and will survive. You have to condition yourself to believe that. At some point, things will get better, but nobody’s able to say when exactly. So, follow all safety protocols and focus on improving your immunity,” says the Arjuna awardee.
From HT Brunch, June 27, 2021
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