At the London Olympics in 2012, archer Deepika Kumari’s hopes of winning a medal were blown away by gusty winds that swept across Lord’s. Four years later in Rio, shooter Jitu Rai, who could not adapt to the sudden change in the weather failed to qualify for the final of his event. And three months ago at the Commonwealth Games, gymnasts pointed out the minor difference in the quality of the mat, which impacted their landing.
To avoid such surprises at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, a multi-agency delegation of sports administrators, led by Sports Authority of India (SAI) officials, will travel to the Japanese capital next week where they will recce venues and also check the facilities that can be provided to the Indian athletes in terms of food and stay.
The team is expected to note even the most minute details that can impact the performance of Indian athletes — measuring the wind-speed, noting the colour schemes at the venues and mapping the distance from venues to their respective accommodation. This information will be relayed to the athletes and their coaches, which will help them recreate similar settings in their training sessions.
The team will also study the feasibility of setting up an “India House” in Tokyo in collaboration with the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), said SAI director general Neelam Kapur. The purpose of the India House is to accommodate the support staff and establish a kitchen where food will be prepared as per the taste and requirement of the athletes.
Before the 2016 Olympics, some athletes had tried to reproduce conditions similar to Rio at their training centres in India. Abhinav Bindra, for example, recreated the shooting lanes at the range at his home in Chandigarh and the archers raised the level of the platform to the height that was similar at the Olympic venue, apart from matching the colour scheme.
This is the first time, Kapur claimed, that a holistic view has been taken in terms of preparations. “We have noticed that these little things have mattered a lot in the past. In the run-up to Tokyo, what can we do to make our athletes comfortable? So, we will see what they require in terms of training and other facilities,” Kapur told The Indian Express. “All the top nations follow this method. We may not be the first ones to do this, but this is the first time we are adopting this wholesome approach.”
The delegation has also been tasked with identifying venues where Indian athletes can train next year exactly during the period of the Games to acclimatise themselves. The IOA is liaising with the organising committee to check the availability of venues for exposure camps next year.
The delegation will also meet officials from Japan’s National Training Centre and Sports Council, apart from universities, to rent their premises. “We will book our training slots right now because there will be a lot of things which will be specific to Tokyo,” Kapur said.
She said only the athletes supported under the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) will be extended this facility. At present, 188 athletes receive special funding under TOPS but that number is expected to reduce sharply after the Asian Games next month.
The Indian diaspora will also be called upon to assist the athletes in Tokyo. “We will talk to local Indian families to see if there is a possibility of providing bed and breakfast kind of facility when they are travelling there for training. That way, the athletes can have home-cooked Indian food as well as someone to talk to in their language, instead of staying by themselves in hotels,” she said.
Officials from not-for-profit organisations like Olympic Gold Quest, JSW Sports and Go Sports foundation are likely to join SAI officials for the visit. “They too handle some of the top athletes so it is important that all stakeholders are on the same page,” she said.