New Delhi, April 23 (IANS) Injuries in 2019 had dampened 2018 World Championships bronze medallist Pooja Dhanda’s hopes of making it to the Tokyo Olympics significantly. She fell off the top billing in the 57kg category with the young Anshu Malik taking her place.
However, the postponement of the Olympics to next year due to the coronavirus pandemic has given the 26-year-old an unexpected boost in her efforts to make it to Tokyo.
“I was very happy,” Pooja told IANS when asked about her first reaction to the Olympics getting postponed. “I fared very poorly in qualification and I knew that my performances went down because of the injury. So for me it was a matter of happiness and relief that the Olympics has been pushed back by a year.
“I straightaway started mapping out where all I need to work on at home and once the lockdown ends. I spoke with my team; they were all very happy and they themselves are drawing out plans on how we need to approach the Olympics now.”
She said that there was a sense of disbelief in the beginning about the postponement, which was the first ever in over 120 years that the Summer Olympics had been held.
“Even after the announcement came I couldn’t believe it for some time. It was such a huge decision to make, postponing the Olympics by a year. It was a big surprise and it’s good because finally I have a chance now to improve my performances and get there,” she said.
Currently, like all sportspersons in the country, Pooja is confined to her home in Hisar, Haryana where she said that she has a few gym equipment that she uses to train.
“Considering the limitations because of the lockdown I think it is going well for now. I am getting to spend time with my family after a very long time so that feels great. I don’t know when I will get a chance to do this again in the future,” she said.
The Wrestling Federation of India cancelled its men’s and women’s national camps on March 16 and Pooja said that in the beginning, she was taking it easy hoping that normalcy would return sooner than later. However, she understood that the unexpected break in the wrestling calendar is here to stay once the ongoing lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 25.
“When we had returned from the camp we really had no idea that this disease would grow like this and the situation would become this serious. So in the beginning it was fine but once the lockdown came it got a bit difficult,” she said.
“It’s okay if I had to do this for a few days but then to keep fit and train over such a long time while at home is something that I am not used to at all. I have always trained in centres or in the national camp.
“In the first few days of the lockdown I was slacking off a bit but then when I understood that this is going to last for a long time I realised that I have to make some arrangements so that we don’t skip my training schedules completely.
“I got a lot more serious about maintaining my diet schedule because regardless of what happens the fact remains that my aim is to reach the Olympics.”
Women’s wrestling coach Andrew Cook is home in the United States of America but he keeps sending training programmes and videos on the Whatsapp group that is made for the national campers.
“We have a national camp group. So we get all relevant information there,” said Pooja.
“Andy keeps telling us what exercises we can do at home, how we can maintain our physical fitness and also what we need to do once the lockdown is over. What we need to focus on once we get back in the national camp. So there is a programme going on that way.”
Injuries have been on Dhanda’s heels throughout her career. A ligament injury in 2015 had led to her needing surgery and a long time away from the game and 2019 saw her mentioning a knee injury which kept her away from the Senior Women’s Nationals in November 2019 and went on to haunt her in subsequent competitions. She however says that she is now completely fit.
“I have completed my rehab and my next session had started before the camp was called off,” said Dhanda. “Right now I am not carrying any injuries, I have recovered fully. I struggled a lot because of them, my performances went down and my Olympic qualification suffered. But now I have got a very good chance to get my form back and get back into reckoning for the Olympics,” she said.
For now however, she is looking to stay safe at home. The WFI for its part has informed Dhanda and her colleagues that there will be no further competitions until a significant update comes from the government with regards to the pandemic.
“The WFI had asked us about how our training is going and what difficulties we are facing. I gave information to them accordingly about the online classes that are being conducted and how my schedule at home with regards to workout and diet is. They told me that until we get any update from the government we have to stay at home and look after myself,” she said.