Pullela Gopichand hoping rich haul of medals from ‘very different’ Tokyo Olympics

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By PTI

NEW DELHI: Chief national badminton coach Pullela Gopichand reckoned the upcoming Olympics would be one “like never before” because of the coronavirus-related restrictions but he is expecting a rich haul of medals from the Indian athletes to herald a sporting turnaround for the country.

He said the athletes at the Games Village are not going to mingle freely and it will be difficult to identify them as they will keep their faces covered.

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“They (athletes) are going to play and leave, so it going to be a very different and tough Olympics for our athletes as well,” Gopichand said during a webinar on ‘Tokyo Olympics – India’s Journey and Expectations’ organised by the National Sports University in Manipur.

“It is important that they mask themselves, keep their head down, focus on the job, win and come back.

“This is going to be challenging but I do believe that Indian sport is at crossroads of making a big achievement or a big jump. I hope that we get enough medals, so they give a boost in the arm to us.”

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Gopichand said he can see many “great starting points” in the sporting eco-system in India and a big haul of medals in the Tokyo Olympics can be the springboard in making the country a sporting powerhouse.

“There are great things to do in the future. I only wish that the young, enthusiastic Olympic team are able to deliver so that the arms of the people who are working for the development of the sport in our country is strengthened even more.

“The athletes have been supported end to end, I don’t think any athlete can complain or ask for anything better. Although I still would say there is a lot to be done at grass-root and intermediate level, the top players have been supported like nothing before, that is something which is amazing.”

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He said the country as a whole is moving in the right direction, though there are many many things to be sorted out.

“In a country so big, in a sporting eco-system so diverse, it is not easy to find a formula of success. It’s a big challenge but I see we are going forward in the right direction.

“Funding is not the issue, but how we channelise our efforts together is important. Everybody has to come together on the same page and start working, so that a remote grass-root level project whether it’s in Mizoram or Manipur, or in Kerala or Gujarat or Jammu and Kashmir, flows into the national squad.”

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He also lauded Indian Olympic Association’s “strong” leadership for being vocal “for the first time about Indian rights” regarding the extra restrictions imposed by the Tokyo Games organisers on the country’s athletes.

Olympian and celebrated long jumper Anju Bobby George said the country’s athletes, especially women, have prepared well and it will be a great opportunity to showcase their abilities.

“For an athlete, Olympics is the ultimate dream. We (Olympians) are not bothered about the sacrifices to achieve it.”

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“… because of the pandemic, we missed one year. And with all the restrictions, our athletes have prepared well. It is time to show the world what we are,” said the long jumper, who is the lone Indian track and field athlete to win a medal at World Championships.

Talking about her experience in the two Olympics she had taken part in, Anju said, “The Olympic Village is a mini world, showcasing different culture, tradition, ability, etc. Athletics is one of the toughest events in the Olympics. We need courage and experience to do our best.”

Former India hockey captain V Baskaran, who led the country to the 1980 Moscow Olympics gold, praised the Olympic-bound athletes for their hard work despite the difficult times due to the pandemic.

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“The athletes are working hard. We hope all of them will come back with flying colours… all are deserving to be on the podium. I wish the Indian athletes all the best and a safe Olympics.”

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