Tokyo Olympics 2020: Athletes must focus on 'what they can control' during unpredictable Games, says Viren Rasquinha

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The 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been constantly plagued by COVID-19 since March 2020, and the IOC have struggled to find solutions to the pandemic's pervasiveness. Even now, a year after the initial launch date, with vaccines available en masse and a bio-bubble in place for the Games, cases of COVID-19 have continued to pop up at the Games.

While the current situation is far from ideal for the athletes who will be participating in what could be the biggest competition of their lifetimes, former India hockey player Viren Rasquinha advised them to just keep focussing on what they could control, saying, "sport is unpredictable, life is unpredictable. Athletes now need to do put all their effort into what is in their control, like masking up, using sanitisers, social distancing and following all the rules and protocols."

"They must focus on preparing well for the tournament, and on making sure that their training, recovery, and nutrition is up to the mark. I think everything else is not something an athlete should worry about too much," said Rasquinha at an interaction with journalists on Tuesday.

Rasquinha stressed on how difficult this Olympics would be for the athletes because of all the interruptions due to COVID-19, saying, "undoubtedly, it's going to be a very difficult Olympics. This whole cycle has been very difficult for players, training programs have been affected so deeply by COVID-19, especially during the second wave. It's been hard for everyone."

"Also, in March 2020, when the pandemic first struck, there was a huge drop in motivation for athletes, since it happened so close to the original date of the Olympics. Athletes do best when they have a fixed schedule and things to look forward to and train for. There also was almost nothing happening in terms of competition, so they did struggle in the first few months. Athletes have been forced to adapt massively to the new settings," said Rasquinha.

However, in the face of all the obstacles that COVID-19 has thrown up, Rasquinha also cited how important it was that the Games go ahead as smoothly and safely as possible, saying, "I really pray and hope the Olympics stays on schedule, and moves forward smoothly. Honestly, there's no doubt in my mind that it's the biggest sporting event on the planet. Athletes work so hard for years and years, and they sacrifice so much for this event. I think it really does change lives."

"Look at Mary Kom, she'd won everything else in her sport, but when she won that Olympic medal, things changed for her. PV Sindhu is another great example, I'm sure she was inspired by Saina winning a medal in 2012, which gave her the belief to go and do it herself. These athletes inspire so many across the country. I wonder what will happen if Mirabai Chanu wins, what will happen if Vinesh Phogat wins, so many young girls will look to them as inspiration," he added.

A lot to look forward to

When asked about potential medal prospects from the Indian contingent, Rasquinha expressed his optimism at the sheer number of candidates, saying, "The good thing is that there are so many this year! A number of people look like good prospects. Neeraj Chopra in athletics, Mirabai Chanu in weightlifting. The shooting team has many potential winners. In boxing, we have great prospects like Mary Kom and Amit Panghal. Archery as well, with Atanu Das and Deepika Kumari. Even my own sport of hockey. There's a lot to look forward to."

Rasquinha also praised the proverbial 'dark horses' in the Indian camp, saying, "There are players who are performing very well, but don't get much media coverage for some reason, like Ravi Kumar and Deepak Punia in wrestling and B Sai Praneeth in badminton. There have always been such athletes, who manage to impress despite a lack of fanfare, like Sakshi Malik at Rio 2016."

The schedule of the Tokyo Olympics 2020 has been the subject of much discussion in the Indian sporting community in recent days, with many pointing out that a number of key Indian athletes will be competing for medals on Day 1 of the tournament. Rasquinha noted how important it was for these athletes to perform well, saying, "the first day is going to be massive. It's going to be so important because winning medals will send a wave of confidence throughout the medal contingent. There's so much pressure on the shoulders of athletes who will be participating on the first day. I feel like if players win medals on the first day, India will be set up wonderfully to win six or more medals."

Success in the offing for Indian Hockey?

Shifting the focus to the sport in which he represented India at the 2004 Olympics, Rasquinha stated that he was confident in the men's side's abilities, and wagered that they had enough talent in their ranks to win a medal at Tokyo 2020. "I feel like this year is the men's hockey team's best chance to win a medal since Sydney 2000. We've been really consistent, it's a very good team, and we've been doing well over the cycle. We've beaten pretty much every major team recently."

"It's an open draw, and almost everyone seems capable of really putting a good run together. I think the key aspect is that our forward line and drag-flickers need to be scoring goals more often. The defense is looking really strong, but we need to improve a little more in an attacking sense," he added.

He also spoke highly of the impact that coach Graham Reid has had on the men's hockey team, saying, "Reid is a very experienced coach, he has coached some of the top teams in hockey. He has the experience and the pedigree. He's also won the Olympics as a player. He's done well to transform this team into an all-around unit. He's made both attacking and defending a team job, where bodies are thrown into attack, but when defending, there's an emphasis on tracking back. He's done a great job, but the Olympics will really decide just how much he's improved the team."

Rasquinha also praised the women's hockey team for their massive improvement in recent years, saying, "I'm very impressed with the way the women's hockey team has improved over the last Olympic cycle. They've done really well to improve their strength and physical endurance. There was a certain gap between the best women's teams in the world and the Indian team in terms of fitness, but that gap has been bridged to a large extent. Yes, the opener against the Netherlands will likely be tough, but I feel like reaching the quarter-final is not out of the question at all."

Watch the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 live on SONY SIX, SONY TEN 2 channels starting 23 July.

Also See: Tokyo Olympics 2020: We don't fear stronger opponents anymore, says Indian women's hockey forward Navneet Kaur

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Tokyo Olympics 2020: Indian women's hockey team has become mentally tougher under Sjoerd Marijne, says ex-coach Neil Hawgood

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