‘Will take each day as it comes with the hope that this virus is wiped out’
With all sporting events suspended, and most training centres and national camps shut, what are athletes doing with their forced leisure time? Everyday a top athlete will write about her or his experience of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. This is Vinesh Phogat, the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games gold-winning wrestler, who became the first Indian grappler to secure a Tokyo Olympics berth with a bronze-medal finish at the 2019 World Championships.
I landed at the New Delhi airport last week on Friday (March 13) and what I saw around disturbed me greatly. There were masks all around—from airline staff to people standing in queues, everyone looked tense. We athletes are not used to such scenes and I just wanted to get out of the airport as soon as possible.
I was returning from Norway after a two-week training camp and the coronavirus scare was not so high there. However, the situation all over the world was changing fast and I decided to advance my return by three days. There was no point taking a risk and also, I needed a safe passage back home.
It is a situation that the world has not seen before, and for the athletes it has come at a time when we are preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In that sense, I am lucky that I will be training in Kharkhoda, Sonepat. I train in a school—Pratap Sports School—and even if the school is shut, the training hall is open for me. (Vinesh trained here before the World Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, in September last year, where she qualified for Tokyo Olympics).
I am taking all precautions. There are only few wrestlers who train there (in the school). I will be sparring only with my sister Priyanka. My coach (Woller Akos from Hungary) was supposed to join me here but had to cancel his ticket because the borders are sealed. I am constantly in touch with him. I have been training under him for a long time and I know the routines very well. I am also in touch with my nutritionist and physio. So, I am sticking to my training schedule. For me, the Tokyo Olympics is on and I am completely focused.
I do not want the Olympics to be cancelled. If it has to be postponed for two-three months, it is okay, we will manage our workload accordingly. Think about it, there are so many challenging situations we face as an athlete—an injury comes from nowhere and it is all over. At times, things do not go according to your plans but we are used to it. We sportspersons are a resilient bunch and we overcome all such difficulties through our positive attitude. This is a new challenge thrown at us and we have to remain positive as much as we can and keep our focus.
I know what I have gone through in these four years after the injury at the Rio Olympics and to come this far to qualify for Tokyo. If it is cancelled now, I will be heartbroken. I know it is very difficult for athletes who are yet to qualify, and also for those who are not able to train in the current circumstances. Without training, it is difficult to keep your mind and body sharp.
The only thing is that there will be no competition. I was scheduled to travel to Europe for training camps and then take part in four to five competitions, but that is impossible now. Nevertheless, I will take each day as it comes with the hope that this virus is wiped out at the earliest.
(As told to Avishek Roy)