New Delhi, March 25: Ace India table tennis player Achanta Sharath Kamal believes the postponement of Tokyo Olympics 2020 to next year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic was on the expected lines but that has certainly dented his preparations for the quadrennial event.
After returning from his title triumph at the ITTF Oman Open earlier this month, Sharath Kamal - who is currently in Chennai during the self-imposed quarantine - will now focus on the process all over again and peak at the right time next year.
The 37-year-old Chennai-based paddler has been doing exceedingly well in the last couple of years and with his win in Oman, he showed that he's in the best phase of his career both physically and mentally. Post-corona, world number 38 paddler will start doing everything from the start. However, Sharath isn't giving much thought about it and relaxing in the comfort of his house.
MyKhel had a telephonic conversation with Sharath and talked at length about his routine in the self-quarantine and future plans.
Here are the excerpts:
MyKhel: Tokyo Olympics has been postponed for next summer due to coronavirus outbreak. Your thoughts on this development?
Sharath Kamal: It was on the expected lines and it is good, not just for the athletes but for the general public - who would flock the stadiums to watch the Olympic games. It's the best solution at this point in time.
For me as an athlete, it's a little bit harsh because the process (for the Olympics) had already started and I began peaking just at the right time. Now, I will have to slow it down and start the process all over again by starting to play tournaments and maintain the rankings, which I have been doing for the last two years.
MK: What will be your plans from now on?
SK: We don't know. The information is just that it (Olympics) has been postponed. We don't know the qualification process, we don't know what ITTF is going to do, we don't know what IOC has suggested for the qualification process. So, it's all in the rudimentary stage now and we'll have to wait for the picture to clear in the days to come. Before that happens, I can't really say what will be my plans and what I will do.
MK: What all have you been doing during the self-imposed isolation ever since your return from Muscat?
SK: Nothing much. Just spending my time with the family and relaxing because there's nothing much you can do at this point in time (laughs). I can't even watch movies because I have a two-year-old kid and he won't let me do much.
We received the Health Ministry's guidelines to be in self-quarantine, there (in Oman) itself and ever since my return from Oman, I have hardly moved out of the house.
MK: How was the atmosphere in Oman because the world had already come under the grip of the COVID-19 outbreak because playing under such conditions isn't easy?
SK: It was really difficult for us to focus on the matches because Europe had virtually shut down by then. The international players there were clueless if they should head back home or extend their stay and they were also worried about the situation in their respective countries. So, it was a really difficult time. In the end, I am happy that I could do well and come back home on March 16.
MK: Has the victory in Oman Open soaked in or are you still in the hangover?
SK: No (laughs), the coronavirus has taken it over. I haven't even gone to my house after my return from Oman. I am in Chennai but at a different location.
MK: The mental aspect of keeping yourself calm gets very important during this troubled phase. So, what are you doing to keep your mind calm?
SK: I am personally prepared till April 15th and if it gets prolonged beyond that date, then probably, I'll break down (laughs). One thing I do understand is that I can't change it. So, then it's better to follow what's being told (to us) for that's better for everybody. And the world is not going anywhere, the Olympics is being moved, so I have nothing much to do (laughs). So, I'll take it easy. I was thinking to talk to my strength and conditioning coach and table tennis coach at the beginning of April and decide which direction should we go into. But will now have to think about it as the Olympics have been deferred.
The next international table tennis tournament, if things improve in the coming months, will be held in September. Also, there would still be some travel restrictions in place at that time. So, I am still not sure what will be my future course of action.
MK: How has been the journey of Indian table tennis in the last couple of years?
SK: It has been fantastic and in the last couple of years we, as a team and as individuals have achieved which none of our seniors could do in the past. It's a good batch of players that we have right now and there is a fine balance of experience and youth in the side. Also, there is a lot of young talent coming up, and I think the TTFI and the coaches are doing their best to give us the platform and exposure to do well.
MK: What according to you went wrong with you guys during the team qualification for the Olympics?
SK: It's just that we didn't rise up to the level what was required. A little bit of inexperience in terms of Olympic preparations and Olympic qualification tournament was the reason.
It was bound to happen because most of the players like Sathiyan, Manav, Amalraj were all playing their first Olympic qualification tournament so they didn't know what it actually takes during such tournaments. (But) they know now and they'll be better prepared next time.
MK: How do you keep yourself motivated because critics, most of the time, talk about your age?
SK: That's the difficult part. But throughout my career, I have always set my sights on something that I could look forward to. Like right now, my sole focus is on the Tokyo Olympics. Earlier, it was on winning a Commonwealth Games medal or finishing the podium at the Asian Games and that has kept me motivated.
MK: How do you keep yourself physically fit?
SK: I do a lot. I spend more time in the gym than table tennis because with age catching up I have to be agile and active all the time.