With the Tokyo Olympics delayed by a year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the waiting game for the athletes who have qualified for the quadrennial event has just stretched. The Games will now open on July 23, 2021, with the closing ceremony scheduled for August 8, 2021. The decision to postpone the Olympics comes with massive ramifications but it was the correct call given the current situation surrounding the novel coronavirus worldwide.
One of the first athletes to have qualified for Tokyo Olympics and ace Indian shooter, Anjum Moudgil, in an exclusive interview with WION’s Sports Editor, Digvijay Singh Deo, opened up about a lot of things ranging from IOC's decision to postpone the Games, unable to train outdoors due to lockdown, shooting training at home, painting and much more.
Digvijay Singh Deo: Anjum thanks for joining me. 3 years to compete at the Olympics, that’s the longest wait any sportsperson has had in the history of the Olympics since the quotas were introduced, that’s a bit of personal record for you and Apurvi Chandela
Anjum Moudgil: I think the decision was right to postpone the games, but it has been a really long time since we qualified so it is a bit strange. We have about 15 months to go for the games which give us more time for preparation which can be a positive thing.
I can't go out and train right now so at home, I’m focusing more on my physical training, I’m working out properly. So I’m using this period very well to focus on my physical and mental well-being, also get to spend time with my family, so I’m adapting very well.
DSD: How did you react to the news of the Olympics getting postponed? Was it a relief or was it oh god another 12 months?
AM: I was happy that the games were postponed, everyone was stressed given the uncertainty surrounding the games. Given the fact that every sport needs outdoor training for preparation, which of course wasn't possible during the lockdown, the decision to postpone the games was the right one but now all the international federations and national Olympic committees need to rework their calendar and go back to the drawing board. So I think it's more work for the authorities rather than the athletes. We athletes will continue to practice and work on our physical health, which is our job. I will draw up a plan with my coach and wait for the ISSF to announce the tournament schedule so that I can prepare a detailed plan leading up to the games.
DSD: But the uncertainty remains doesn’t it. You do not know when the shooting calendar will resume. Even when it does it will be quite a difficult phase for everyone as there has been no competition for the first half of 2020 and training scores do not always get replicated during competition.
AM: Even though the games have been postponed, we don't know when we will play our first tournament- it might be June, July, September or even later than that. It all depends on the state of the pandemic.
So it’s very uncertain, all we can do is hope for the best but it’s also impossible to predict anything right now. It’s not just us athletes, everyone is in the same boat right now. The fact that we will wait for so long for the next tournament will only add on to our experience as athletes. I hope everyone is safe till then and whenever the time comes they are ready to compete. The uncertain times are affecting the athletes mentally as well, but there is no option as the lockdown is mandatory for everyone. So we have to adapt and cope with it, there is no other option
DSD: Just to get a sense of what the preparatory period is like for an elite Olympic bound sportsperson tell us what has changed in you since you won the Olympic quota for India. Was it more discipline, more training?
AM: Surely a lot has changed since securing a quota place in the air rifle, but since then I have never felt extra pressure to secure a quote in three positions event. I have trained equally hard for both events and in fact, three positions are considered my main event. I really feel I belong there and sometimes feel like I own the event, have a lot of confidence in myself.
In air rifle, I have started training more in the last two years, to get to know the weaknesses I have. I didn't get the chance to compete in three positions as was concentrating more on air rifle, but that has helped me and it's been a new experience. It's changed my perspective on the two events, but not my work ethic. Results vary for me, especially in terms of scores but I keep putting in the hard work.
DSD: Here I must add that the quota belongs to the country and not to a shooter, so there has been a period of trials as well to ensure you stay ahead of the competition, do more competitions translate to more stress? Have you in those last two years thought about losing the spot after a bad competition. Shooting is a very mental sport and thoughts like these are bound to crop up somewhere?
AM: Yes it is a little bit of extra pressure since everyone is shooting so well. It’s not a guarantee that whosoever secures the quota spot will get a chance to be a part of the team, but that's where the mental aspect of the athletes comes into play, we have to focus on our own performance rather than team selection. Our job at the range is to go out and do our best, that is under our control. There might be some pressure to produce a certain score, but I try to ignore it. I never prepare myself to beat someone else or see the rankings before a tournament, I just go out and do my best, whatever else happens, I will accept it.
DSD: We are seeing social media posts be it on twitter, be it on Instagram of sportspersons trying to stay fit and keep training. What have you been up to in the lockdown?
AM: I’m very happy being at home, I have been spending time with my family. I live in a joint family so there are about 10 people in the house which is great. No one is going out obviously and we are taking necessary precautions. I have more time to paint, which is something I always wanted to do. I'm learning how to dance from my cousin and how to juggle from my brother. I'm also learning about the various muscles in the body, which will help me when I’m at the physio the next time to explain the problem.
Like I said before I’ve been working out and also sharing videos on social media. I'm just trying to stay positive as much as I can. I see other athletes and they are a bit down because of the lockdown. But this is something that's not in our control, so I feel we should make the best use of this time, posting videos and trying to stay upbeat.
DSD: You mentioned painting so I’m going to expand on that. You love painting and whenever you are travelling for competitions you always slip in your canvas and paints and brushes. Now that you are at home are you swamped by orders from your teammates?
AM: Now that I’m home I’m getting more orders from teammates for paintings that they had asked me to do a while back. And since I’m at home and not travelling I can complete it. I've always wanted to have a good number of paintings at home so that I can hold an exhibition if I want to. I've always wanted to hold an exhibition of my artwork and I have all the art supplies at homes so that might be possible now. I'm also thinking of selling some of my paintings online to raise money for those people in need during these tough times. I've already donated some money to a friend who also is employed by the Punjab police and who is helping distribute food to the underprivileged and hopefully, I’ll be able to do more in the near future.
DSD: Some in your shooting fraternity have built small shooting ranges at home and can still train. Are you able to train at home?
AM: I had planned a break after the scheduled Delhi World Cup (which was called off in the first week of March) because I had a very busy season in January, February and March. So that 10-day break just got over and I’ve started training today, am focusing on dry shooting right now for both my events. I earlier didn't have a training facility at home in Chandigarh as I was not here most of the time and the shooting range is very near to my house. But now that I’m going to be home, my father and I have built a temporary target. He and I do a lot of woodwork, so we have set up that range for me to train here.
DSD: For the benefit of our readers and viewers can you explain what dry training is all about?
AM: Dry training is basically replicating everything that you do in a shooting range, except actually releasing the shot. Every action will be the same, even pulling the trigger but the shot will not be released. Muscle memory is very important for us shooters and this is a great exercise. Also shooting at home can be unsafe since we have to make sure that no one is in the vicinity before we take the shot.
DSD: Are you in touch with your shooting teammates during this lockdown period. The Indian team had a very hectic schedule in 2019 and those you who qualified for the Olympics barely had an offseason as you continued to train for the games. Is this break actually good for all of you to recharge your batteries?
AM: I haven't been in touch with the shooters that secured the quota, but the ones that I have spoken to are all happy to have this break. I am certainly happy to be at home, spending time with my family, it really has helped me recharge my batteries since I am not at home that often in Chandigarh, I’m usually in Delhi. It's great that I can have home-cooked food, I even cooked a meal yesterday myself. So I can do pretty much whatever I want which is great.
I even made a video with all the Indian shooters to show our unity and spirit in these tough times, I’ve uploaded that to Instagram and it turned out to be pretty good.