(L-R): Hima Das, Neeraj Chopra and Navjeet Dhillon(Getty Images)
(L-R): Hima Das, Neeraj Chopra and Navjeet Dhillon(Getty Images)

Athletes resume outdoor training at Patiala centre, top coaches barred

There are close to 40 core group track and field athletes, including javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, Hima Das, women’s 100m relay team, shot putter Tejinder Pal Singh Toor and Navjeet Dhillon in Patiala.
UPDATED ON MAY 27, 2020 11:59 PM IST

For close to two months, elite athletes at the SAI centres in Patiala and Bengaluru were not allowed to venture out of their hostels amid strict lockdown protocol. On Wednesday when they finally got the go ahead to resume outdoor training, it was a new start for most of them.

There are close to 40 core group track and field athletes, including javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, Hima Das, women’s 100m relay team, shot putter Tejinder Pal Singh Toor and Navjeet Dhillon in Patiala.

On Wednesday, athletes went out in small groups of three to four to three different grounds of the Patiala facility, fully kitted and with face masks on. Nobody was allowed to carry their mobile phones. They had to use the foot-pedal sanitiser kept at the ground and maintain social distancing while doing their drills.

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Tokyo Olympics hopeful Chopra said it will take some time to get comfortable with the new normal. Chopra had another javelin thrower Rohit Yadav for company during training.

“It was a nice feeling to get to the grass ground. We did some running and light exercise. It was the first day so we did not push ourselves. We will continue to do light training for some more days,” said Chopra who returned from Turkey on March 13 and quarantined himself at NIS Patiala. “We were told about the dos and don’ts like not to spit, maintain social distancing, use sanitizer etc. We tried to run keeping a safe distance from each other. It will take some time to get adjusted to these norms. It will be some time before we start throwing the javelin,” he added.

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Chopra qualified for Tokyo Olympics in a South Africa meet in January with a throw of 87.86m in his first competitive event since returning from injury. He was then looking to participate in international events in the build up to Olympics when the pandemic came as a blow. “I was very excited that I will be going to participate in my first Olympics but then the postponement happened. It was disappointing and then we were not able to train. I used to think when can we go out for normal training, when will I be able to throw the javelin again. At least things have started moving now,” he said.

However, none of the top coaches were present as four of them - chief coach Bahadur Singh, JS Bhatia (middle and long distance), German biomechanic expert Klaus Bartonietz, who is overseeing Chopra’s training, and sprint coach (400m and 400m relay) Galina Bukharina - are above 65 years old and not allowed to be part of training as per government guidelines. So assistant coaches accompanied the athletes.

AFI president Adille Sumariwalla said this was the first phase of 10-day training and safety of the athletes was top priority. “We have chalked out a fitness programme that will not be physically demanding. There are no specific workouts and so the absence of senior coaches will not be felt during these easy training sessions,” said Sumariwalla.

Bahadur Singh was, however, included in the 10-member Covid task force panel set up by SAI to monitor training of athletes as required by the government’s Standard Operating Procedures. NIS executive director Col (retd) Raj Singh Bishnoi, is the chairman. The panel will oversee that athletes follow the SOP.

In Bengaluru SAI centre the race-walking team and middle distance runner Jinson Johnson did not go out for training. The athletes including the men’s and women’s hockey squads have quarantined themselves as a precautionary measure after a cook who came to the campus died and tested positive. “Our coach said there was no need to hurry and we can start after the 14-day quarantine period,” said one of the race walkers.

“In Patiala and Bengaluru athletes have been given a staggered schedule for participation in sporting activities, to ensure social distancing norms.” SAI said in a statement.

Avinash Sable, men’s 3000m steeplechase record holder and Olympic hopeful, also started training outdoors in Ooty at the Army cantonment area. He had earned his Olympic qualification at the 2019 Doha World Championships.

“We went for a long and easy run that was within the comfortable zone. Since we have been advised to take it easy and not to push hard, we will not exert in training for the next 10 days,” said Sable’s coach Amrish Kumar. “But will go out and see how our body reacts to each training session as we haven’t done any aerobic workout since March 24,” said Amrish.

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