Tokyo 2020: Heena Sidhu addresses challenges in front of India's young contingent at Olympics - EXCLUSIVE | Olympics - Hindustan Times
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Tokyo 2020: Heena Sidhu addresses challenges in front of India's young contingent at Olympics - EXCLUSIVE

ByKaran Prashant Saxena
Jul 23, 2021 08:59 PM IST

With India's shooting campaign set to begin from Saturday, pistol shooter Heena Sidhu, who competed at the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2016 Rio Olympics, spoke to with Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview to give a glimpse of what it is like for athletes a day before competing at the Games.

For India's young shooting contingent at the Tokyo 2020, the pressure of competing at the Olympics Games is probably next to no other. On one hand, India would feel comfortable with a strong 15-member contingent at the Games this time around - the highest ever fielded by the nation. But on the other hand, for the likes of Saurabh Chaudhary, Manu Bhaker, Elavenil Valarivan - who all are competing at the Games for the first time, the weight of expectations may be a lot to take.

India's Heena Sidhu(AFP)
India's Heena Sidhu(AFP)

With India's shooting campaign set to begin from Saturday, pistol shooter Heena Sidhu, who competed at the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2016 Rio Olympics, spoke to with Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview to give a glimpse of what it is like for athletes a day before competing at the Games.

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"It is obviously very challenging a day before the competition. Athletes feel stressed. You are unable to sleep, you are unable to eat. You keep thinking about the things that could go wrong, despite all the preparation. Even a small noise can cause irritation. And at that point you don't realise you are creating this environment for yourself," Sidhu said.

The 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medal-winning shooter further explained that every athlete has a process of how they keep themselves calm a day before big matches.

"Obviously, these athletes have competed in World tournaments and several other big competitions, so they already have a process for themselves. Some like to go to the gym, some try to listen to music. But in the end, you still feel the nerves before the matchday, and it does become hard to sleep sometimes," she said.

It has sort of been a source of discussion over the past few Olympics, that India's shooting contingent enters the Games on the back of a dominant run, but ends up struggling in the multi-sporting event. With 15 shooters contesting this time, fans are hoping for multiple medals. But could it be the same story this time around?

"No one can answer this," Sidhu said. "We have to see and wait how the tournament goes. There are multiple factors that affect performances at the games. Most of these are young athletes, who have never faced this kind of pressure, and it may affect them on the match day," she said.

"There is training, your competitors, your nerves, your luck... everything plays a role on match day. So the focus should be on how the performance was on the matchday and not on the end result," Sidhu added.

With the mental health of athletes becoming a major source of discussion in the current day and age, Sidhu also stressed that there is a need to begin a discussion around the same, especially with the younger athletes, once the Games come to an end.

"It is important to listen to athletes and create this space where athletes can talk about it freely. If an athlete is feeling depressed, he/she should be allowed to discuss it as it will help them in not letting this affect their sport. Once your bad mental health starts affecting your life -- you are unable to eat, you are unable to sleep, you are unable to enjoy -- then it starts to affect your sport as well. And creating an environment to speak about it will really help the athletes," Sidhu said.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics are not like the others. There are no crowds, the players are being tested for Covid-19 every day, they have to roam around wearing masks and limit contact with other athletes. Moreover, there have been protests over the Games in Tokyo with the rising number of Covid cases in the city.

But while Sidhu agrees these factors can cause a distraction to shooters, she believes the athletes are capable of not letting these distractions affect their performances.

"While I agree that all these Covid protocols could affect concentration, the athletes are more than capable of handling them and not let them affect their performances. They have been trained for this, and these factors exist for their competitors as well. So, I don't see them as a big issue for shooters," Sidhu said,

Lastly, speaking on the Indian shooters' recent performances at the ISSF World Cups in New Delhi and Croatia, Sidhu said that they are not enough to determine the "current form" of the shooters. Indian shooters were out of action for the entire 2020 with the Covid-19 pandemic leading to the cancellation of major events.

With little to no training, India won 30 medals in the Delhi World Cup - though most of the medals came in the non-Olympics events. Moreover, several top-level athletes from other countries were not able to participate in the event due to travel restrictions.

India's recent performance at the ISSF World Cup in Croatia was also not their best - with India winning only four medals in the tournament.

"These competitions are not enough to determine the form of the shooters," Sidhu said.

"They had an unexpected break in 2020, they only trained a bit at the start of the year, and most of their training happened in Croatia before and after the ISSF World Cup. So, I feel these competitions were just to sharpen the shooters, get them in the competitive mind. But the real test will be at the Games," she signed off.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Karan Prashant Saxena is a reporter/writer/editor, who specialises in sports. His primary areas of interest include football, Olympics sports, and pro-wrestling. When not working, Karan spends his time reading, travelling, and pondering on the question - What If?

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