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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Explained: As Sindhu trains for Olympics, dissecting Tokyo conditions, and her opposition

While PV Sindhu attempts to simulate Tokyo-like conditions while making use of air-conditioners and blowers to mimic the drift, here's a look at the variables, aerodynamic and otherwise, to make sense of this decision.

Written by Shivani Naik | Mumbai |
Updated: February 23, 2021 2:18:34 pm
Experts feel Sindhu is among the few who can straddle both styles - fast and slow courts (File Photo)

Reigning world champion PV Sindhu will now train at Hyderabad’s Gachibowli Stadium, citing her keenness to practise in larger competition halls.

While she attempts to simulate Tokyo-like conditions while making use of air-conditioners and blowers to mimic the drift, here’s a look at the variables, aerodynamic and otherwise, to make sense of this decision.

Why does a shuttle move differently inside a normal indoor academy and in a large stadium?

The bigger the arena, the greater the air density and resistance – which means the shuttle moves a little slower than in a smaller hall, minus the stands.

Also, the speed and position of the blowers – across the court’s width or on one side lengthwise – can be adjusted to practise for the drift.

Is it an exact simulation of conditions in Tokyo?

Not really. Tokyo is 40 m above sea level, Hyderabad is 542 m, and Bengaluru is 920 m.

The altitude largely determines how fast a shuttle moves. At a higher altitude, there’s less oxygen and the air is thinner – so there is less friction, and the shuttle will move faster in Hyderabad than in Tokyo.

Though Sindhu might get the feel of playing in a stadium, it is impossible to get a 100 per cent competition simulation at Gachibowli given Tokyo’s Musashino Forest Sports Plaza will have 7,200 spectators, if allowed, depending on the pandemic situation. An exhaling audience even at half capacity, and the A/C switched on to circulate air, can change shuttle speed – and this cannot be simulated in the time of Covid. Recorded crowd sounds can be played, but it’s not the same.

Why is the drift tricky?

“When organisers switch on the A/C, it’s not like a fixed plan – that the draught will move north-south or east-west, or from this side,” former international Arvind Bhat said, adding that while Sindhu will benefit from training in a big arena, it’s not exactly a gamechanger, as she’s never faced a problem adjusting.

“She has played well and won in all types of conditions anyway,” he said.

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What are the other variables?

The speed of the shuttle itself is crucial. Bhat said that manufacturing majors like Yonex and Li Ning make three batches of shuttles for every tournament – fast, medium, and slow.

“The Badminton World Federation decides, let’s say 10-20 days before the Olympics (and a day earlier for circuit events), which one of the three to use. So if you are playing at sea level and courts are going to play slow, then to just give an example, BWF will pick the fast shuttle batch to ensure rallies don’t drag,” he said.

Usually, the same speed shuttle is used for the whole tournament.

Does Japan get to choose the conditions?

Given that BWF picks the shuttle speed, the hosts can’t control all the conditions at the arena.

It would also not make sense for the Japanese, because their women’s singles contenders – Nozomi Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi – might prefer different conditions, which won’t be the same as what Kento Momota, their men’s singles gold contender, desires or what the men’s and women’s doubles pairings prefer.

Having said that, as hosts, the Japanese players would have trained for years at the Musashino arena, which was the first of the permanent, constructed Olympic venues to be completed on November 25, 2017.

It is also likely that given the Covid rules, the host shuttlers might get longer to acclimatise. “Maybe, they get 10 days before the Olympics and the rest of the world gets three,” Bhat said.

Looking at the competition, what courts and shuttle suit Sindhu best?

Bhat reckons Sindhu is one of the few players who can straddle both styles – fast and slow courts. “She’s somewhere in between. If it’s a fast court, she’ll like playing the Japanese and Koreans who like to rally. On slow courts, she can do well against Carolina Marin, Tai Tzu-Ying, and Ratchanok Intanon. But slow courts demand extreme fitness, so that’ll have to go up,” he said.

What are the other factors at play?

Musashino is a 4,900-square metre main arena, while the GMC Balayogi Stadium at Gachibowli is around 2,400 square metres. While July-August can see temperatures of 26.7 degree Celsius on average in Tokyo, the humidity is expected at 80 per cent in August.

Also, players at the recent Thailand Super 1000s were sweating buckets because the A/C was minimally used owing to Covid-19 apprehensions in indoor arenas. What Japan plans to do inside the badminton hall is not known yet.

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