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Play freely, the whole of India will cheer for you: PM Modi to Tokyo-bound athletes

“Don’t take the pressure of winning, just tell your heart and mind that you want to give your best. Play freely. The whole of India will cheer for you,” this was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s message to India’s Tokyo Olympics-bound athletes during an hour-long online conversation between him and some of the athletes from the Indian contingent.

India will have its biggest Olympics contingent ever in Tokyo with 126 athletes participating. The first batch of Indian athletes will leave for Tokyo on July 17.

“I can see bold, confident and positive faces here. You have come so far with your discipline, commitment and dedication. The commitment and competitiveness you have shown are the qualities of a new India and all of you are a reflection of a new India. Very soon, winning will become a habit for this new India,” said Modi.

The Prime Minister spoke to 15 athletes and their family members during the televised virtual meeting.

Among those present were Deepika Kumari, the No 1 ranked female archer in the world right now, javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, tennis star Sania Mirza, reigning badminton world champion PV Sindhu, London Olympics bronze medallist MC Mary Kom, Vinesh Phogat who is the No 1 ranked wrestler in her weight class in the world, shooters Saurabh Chaudhary and Elavenil Valarivan, sprinter Dutee Chand, swimmer Sajan Prakash, table tennis players Manika Batra and Sharath Kamal, and boxer Ashish Kumar.

Starting his conversation with Deepika, who recently became world No 1 after winning gold medal at the Archery World Cup stage 3 in Paris, the prime minister wanted to know about the journey of the Ranchi girl, who will be playing in her second Olympics. “I heard that you started archery by taking aim at mangoes,” Modi laughed.

“After you won the gold medal in Paris, the whole nation is talking about you, you are now World no,1. Can you recall your journey?”

“I like mangoes, and that’s how it started,” Deepika responded with a smile. “I started with a bamboo bow and then switched to a modern bow. The starting years were a struggle because there were no facilities, but then I got good training and good coaches,” said the 27-year-old.

“How do you balance between expectation and focus?” PM asked.

“The biggest expectation you have is from yourself. I see to it that my full focus is on my training right now,” answered Deepika.

Modi then spoke to recurve archer Pravin Jadhav, who belongs to a family of daily wage labourers from Amravati and called him an inspiration. Jadhav was part of the team that won the men’s recurve team silver at the world championships in 2019. Jadhav’s parents had also joined the meeting.

While speaking to boxer Ashish Kumar, who had lost his father just days before the Olympic qualifiers in March 2020, Modi said it requires great mental strength to overcome personal loss and represent the country and reminded him of Sachin Tendulkar.

“I recall that Sachin Tendulkar’s father passed away when he was playing in an important tournament for India. He chose to play and through his game he paid tribute to his father. You have done the same thing. You are a winner,” Modi said.

Dutee Chand shared her struggles in her professional and personal life. “I come from a weavers’ family. I have three sisters and one brother and people used to criticise my mother for giving birth to so many girls. We had little food to eat and my father’s income was very low. I was thinking, if I play well I can get a good job in the government,” Dutee told Modi.

While speaking to Rio Olympics silver medallist Sindhu, Modi joked about whether she is allowed to have ice cream now. “I heard that Gopichand (Sindhu’s coach) had taken your mobile last time before Rio and you were not supposed to have ice creams too?” he said.

“When you come back from Tokyo, we will have ice cream together.”

Modi called Mary Kom an inspiration for the entire contingent.

To Sania Mirza he said, “you are a champion and a fighter. I am sure you will play very well at the Olympics.”

Modi also asked her and Sharath Kamal how facilities have improved over the years.

Sports Minister Anurag Thakur, former Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju, and the president of the Indian Olympic Association, Narinder Batra, were also in attendance.

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