Ace Indian paddler Sharath Kamal says it is not the best way to prepare for Tokyo Games when the country is in the midst of a deadly COVID-19 pandemic but assured that the players will not be under-prepared in their quest for a first-ever Olympic medal. (More Sports News)
India's health care system is struggling to cope with an unprecedented second wave of COVID-19, with the country reporting 3 lakh new cases and 2000 deaths on daily basis in the last few days.
"It is not the way we should prepare for Olympics, but we have to find a way to focus on our performance and work towards it. We are trying to keep ourselves afloat and try to achieve the goal," said Sharath during a virtual press-conference arranged by Sports Authority of India (SAI).
Gearing up for his fourth Olympics, Sharath said he is "mentally better" as compared to last year when India was hit by COVID-19 for the first time.
"Last year we were scared, afraid of everything, there was only negativity. I didn't feel like playing with so many people dying. Now we have a job at hand, we have some sort of direction and goal to look at," he said
"It is not easy to have a clear plan and travelling is also an issue. Earlier I could go for two weeks to China or Korea, it was lot easier. We were thinking of inviting few foreign players but now it is really tough."
India produced a good show at Asian Olympic Qualifiers in Doha last month with Sharath and Manika becoming the first Indian pairing to qualify for Tokyo Games by winning the event.
Sharath and Manika also booked their respective singles berth as did G Sathiyan and Sutirtha Mukherjee.
"I don't think we are going to be under prepared. In Doha, we all did very well. We had stayed in India and had trained with the resources we had," said the nine-time national champion.
"I felt my levels didn't dip, which means preparation is fine, We can make use of what we have in hand. I don't think we will have any regrets about preparation," said the 38-year-old from Chennai.
Talking about the safety protocols during the Doha event, he said, "We were tested every 3rd day, we had to maintain protocols. There is a lot of stuff that is going on in the head other than the game."
"I started in September after the lockdown, it has been like this since then, we don't know how to handle it, we still have to do our fitness, everything has to go on and we don't know how much of this distraction and negativity will affect our performance."
Sharath said it is not going to be a "social" Olympics this time in Tokyo with strict health and safety protocols.
"It is not going to be festival. Olympics is the largest event across the world, that festivity and celebration, ... this time, in a social way, it won't be the best Olympic Games."
Sharath said he is aiming high this time as his singles ranking has been good. The Asian Games bronze in mixed doubles has also given him the self belief to win an Olympic medal.
"Last 5 years we have been dreaming about it, so now there is a situation where winning medal is a reality," said Sharath, who alongwith Manika, managed a short five-day training stint in Chennai last week.
Sharath had become the highest-ranked Indian paddler when he claimed the 31st spot following his title winning performance at Oman Open.
He said he does not "know how long he would continue" and is just "hoping to be around for a while".