Athletes are no different from others

When India went into a nationwide lockdown in the last week of March, the country’s elite athletes were left in a limbo. Most of them were inside academies, but they weren’t allowed to even use gym facilities, and contact with the outside world was prohibited.

With India exiting the lockdown in a phased manner starting this week, athletes have started getting back to training mode in the complexes of the Sports Authority of India, especially in the National Institute of Sports, Patiala and the Bengaluru centre.

Action is not limited to these centres. News of sporadic instances of training has started coming in from various places in India. The sight of sportspersons ambling across the ground, stretching here and running there, arouses that euphoric feeling of freedom.

But this is when they have to take it slow and steady. There is no point in hitting the ground running just because some of them have become frustrated in the absence of training. The first order of business is to get their fitness, both physical and mental, up to an optimal level. This is something that will take a while and all athletes will have to go through the process of taking it one day at a time. With no competitions on the horizon, the federations and athletes can afford to do so.

Building up fitness after being confined to their rooms for more than two months is a marathon and not a sprint. If the athletes start high-intensity training too soon, they risk suffering long term injuries, something they will want to avoid, especially with the Olympics next year. Not just physically, the athletes have to be mentally ready to intensify training. Coaches too are aware of this. Spending too much time indoors doing nothing takes a toll on your mind as well. There are signs of frustration and mental exhaustion. So mental fragility must also be considered.

The officials will also have to look into the feasibility of sending these athletes home. Most of them, suffering from a lack of motivation, wanted to go back, but the federations retained them inside the hostels. Once everything is open and quarantine rules are removed, there is no harm in allowing them to see their families. It’s been a testing time for everyone and athletes are no different from others.

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