MAHARASHTRA ALLOWS POOLS FOR COMPETITION SWIMMERS TO REOPEN

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Maharashtra has allowed the reopening of swimming pools meant to train competition swimmers.

“ As per the latest government guidelines, swimming pools used for training of state-, national and international-level sportspersons and located outside containment zones can operate from November 5,’’ a PTI report dated November 4, 2020 said. “ I am very happy and I know all swimmers across the state are very happy with this decision. We have been waiting for seven months and we can’t wait to get in the pool and start training,’’ Virdhawal Khade, national record holder and among best known competition swimmers from Maharashtra, said.  He expressed gratitude to the government for its decision.

Among sports, swimming had been one of the worst hit as lockdown and pandemic totally cut off access to pools. On September 30, 2020, the central government had allowed select swimming pools – qualified as those used to train “ sportspersons” – to reopen as part of Unlock 5, effective from October 1. The final decision was to be taken by the states. In subsequent unlock guidelines at the state level, Maharashtra had continued to remain cautious and avoided reopening pools. That is what has changed now. “ The state government’s decision will certainly be a relief for elite swimmers from Maharashtra. It will help them train and perform well at competitions,’’ former national record holder in swimming, Sebastian Xavier, currently stationed in Mumbai as Senior Sports Officer, Western Railway, said. Besides swimming pools meant to train elite swimmers, yoga institutes, indoor sports facilities such as badminton halls, tennis, squash courts and indoor shooting ranges have also been allowed to function from November 5, the PTI report said. Physical distancing and sanitization must be ensured, the accompanying guidelines said.

“ This means a lot,’’ Zarir Balliwala, President, Greater Mumbai Amateur Aquatics Association (GMAAA), said about the state government’s decision to reopen pools meant to train elite swimmers. He pointed out that competition swimmers had been without access to pools for the past 6-7 months. “ It makes us hopeful that by next April we may be able to get district level competitions underway,’’ he said. However between the decision to reopen and training getting underway in a systematic fashion for elite swimmers, there could be a teething phase. This is because prior to pandemic and lockdown, competition swimmers trained at pools of their choice, some of which were privately owned facilities. There is no guarantee that pools will cater to a limited number of competition swimmers. Their maintenance cost may be unsustainable at reduced traffic. Which pools elite swimmers should go to – this has to now emerge though discussion and consensus in the swimming community.

Pune based-open water swimmer Rohan More has crossed several channels and straits worldwide; he was awarded the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award for 2017. An IT engineer, Rohan’s work hours varies in accordance with the hours of work of clients overseas. In the more relaxed and less regimented life before lockdown when pools offered various time slots to train, he could easily find a slot that suited him. He wondered if similar flexibility may be available in the new normal; he wasn’t also sure yet which pools in town may cater to elite swimmers under the new unlock guidelines. Still, the government’s decision to reopen pools meant for training competition swimmers is a promising start, he said.

Navi Mumbai-based Shubham Vanmali was among those who highlighted pretty early in the lockdown that the loss to swimmers from the closure of pools is hard to compensate. At heart it is access to water denied and water, besides being medium for swimming is also therapeutic. An accomplished open water swimmer with channel crossings to his credit, Shubham had turned to dry land exercises to stay fit. “ Such workouts, while useful cannot make up for the loss of access to water,’’ Shubham said.  After six months of no swimming, in October, Shubham gained access to a resort some distance from Khopoli that had an adjacent water body about 50-70 meters long, wherein the water was also flowing and not stagnant. He occasionally swam there. He also went to his native place – Kasa near Dahanu – and swam in rivers and lakes there. His initial moments in water were a reminder of what happened to endurance swimmer during lockdown. “ I could feel how heavy I was in the water. I was dragging so much surface area. My body was also stiff and therefore prone to injury. I swam slowly. I did stretches and exercises to rehabilitate my shoulders,’’ he said.

“ Personally I think it will be an uphill for all,’’ Zarir said of the road to fitness and peak condition that lay ahead for Maharashtra’s competition swimmers. But for now the feeling is one of relief and gratitude.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)             

ADHM TO RUN WITH NEW NORMAL MIX: ELITES-ONLY RACE + VIRTUAL

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

The 2020 Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM), scheduled to be held on November 29, will be a combination of physical race and virtual running event, the organizers announced recently.  The physical race will be restricted to elite athletes.

ADHM is a World Athletics Gold Label Road Race. It is a prominent event; one that has come to feature on the bio-data of many of today’s top distance runners. Given the ongoing pandemic, the physical race of 2020 will feature high safety standards and have a bio-bubble in place. This pattern is similar to what was seen at the 2020 London Marathon, the physical version of which was run as an elites-only race. However unlike in London, where the normal course was traded for a bio-secure loop of shorter dimension (the runners repeated it several times), the elites running at ADHM will follow the race’s regular course. There will be no short loop being repeated to accumulate the distance of a half marathon, it is reliably learnt. 

“ While the Elite runners will be at the start line at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, on the 29th November, amateurs from across the globe will join them via the exclusive Airtel Delhi Half Marathon Mobile App. Participation this year will be from a convenient location, wherever you are,’’ an official statement dated October 31, 2020, available on the website of Procam International, said. According to it, the event’s elite athlete coordinator will put together a highly competitive field of elite athletes for the 2020 edition.

Registration for the event’s three race categories began on October 30.

“ Supported by Government of NCT of Delhi, the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports, Ministry of External Affairs, Sports Authority of India, Athletics Federation of India, World Athletics (WA), Association of International Marathons & Distance Races (AIMS) our sponsors and partners; ADHM 2020 will once again have the best athletes from around the world, running alongside our national elite, in the heart of our capital city,’’ the statement said, adding, “ Airtel Delhi Half Marathon will follow the highest level of safety-standards, with bio-secure zones to ensure a COVID free race for the elite runners.’’

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

The statement quoted Hugh Jones, Race Director as saying, “ With sport slowly but surely resuming world-over, being able to host the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon is good news for runners.  The event has always attracted some of the world’s best athletes and we are humbled to open our gates to them once again this year. The teams have been in detailed discussions with all stakeholders to work out the best possible option for our elites. Their safety and well-being are our top priority.”

ADHM’s specialized event app will have an array of features for enhanced running experience; timing and distance tracker, inspiring audio soundscapes and much more.

Running events had ground to a halt in India following COVID-19 and the related lockdown from late March. Tracking the trend worldwide, here too, major races were postponed or cancelled. At the time of writing, the website of TCS World 10K held annually in Bengaluru was still featuring the last announced prospective date of November 22 for its 2020 edition (reference: statement to media dated May 9, 2020). Procam International organizes TCS World 10K and ADHM. It is understood that talks are continuing with regard to TCS World 10K. For now, clarity on date and format is most with reference to ADHM.  

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

AT A GLANCE / NOVEMBER 2020

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

2020 World Athlete of the Year: nominations announced

The nominees for the 2020 World Athlete of the Year (male and female) have been announced.

According to two press releases dated November 2, 2020 and November 3, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics, ten male athletes and ten female athletes have been nominated in their respective gender categories. “ The nominations reflect the remarkable range of exceptional performances that the sport has witnessed this year, despite the challenges that the global Covid-19 pandemic presented,’’ the releases said.

The nominees for the Male World Athlete of the Year are:

Donavan Brazier, USA – ran world-leading 800m times indoors (1:44.22, North American indoor record) and outdoors (1:43.15) – won all seven of his races over all distances;  Joshua Cheptegei, Uganda – broke world records at 5000m (12:35.36), 10,000m (26:11.00) and 5km on the roads (12:51) – was fourth at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships on his debut over the distance, Timothy Cheruiyot, Kenya – ran world-leading 3:28.45 over 1500m – undefeated in three 1500m races, Ryan Crouser, USA – undefeated in 10 shot put competitions – his 22.91m world-leading performance moved him to equal third on the world all-time list, Mondo Duplantis, Sweden – broke the world record in the pole vault twice (6.17m and 6.18m) and produced the highest outdoor vault of all time (6.15m) – undefeated in 16 competitions, Jacob Kiplimo, Uganda – won world half marathon title in a championship record of 58:49 – ran a world-leading 7:26.64 over 3000m, the fastest time in the world since 2007, Noah Lyles, USA – undefeated in five finals – ran a world-leading 19.76 over 200m, Daniel Stahl, Sweden – won 17 of his 19 discus competitions – threw a world-leading 71.37m, Johannes Vetter, Germany – won eight of his nine javelin competitions – threw a world-leading 97.76m, the second farthest throw in history and Karsten Warholm, Norway – ran a world-leading 46.87 in the 400m hurdles, the second fastest performance in history – undefeated in nine 400m/400m hurdles races and set world best of 33.78 in 300m hurdles.

The nominees for 2020 Female World Athlete of the Year are:

Femke Bol, Netherlands – undefeated in six 400m hurdles races – ran a world-leading 53.79 in the 400m hurdles; Letesenbet Gidey, Ethiopia – set a world record of 14:06.62 over 5000m – was second in the Monaco Diamond League over 5000m, Sifan Hassan, Netherlands – set a world record of 18,930m in the one hour run – set a European record of 29:36.67 over 10,000m, the fourth fastest performance in history, Peres Jepchirchir, Kenya – won the world half marathon title – twice broke the world half marathon record for a women-only race (1:05:34 and 1:05:16),  Faith Kipyegon, Kenya – undefeated in five races over all distances – ran world-leading performances over 800m (1:57.68) and 1000m (2:29.15), Laura Muir, Great Britain and Northern Ireland – undefeated in three 1500m races – ran a world-leading 3:57.40 over 1500m, Hellen Obiri, Kenya – undefeated in three races over 3000m and 5000m – ran a world-leading 8:22.54 over 3000m, Yulimar Rojas, Venezuela – undefeated in four triple jump competitions indoors and outdoors – broke the world indoor triple jump record with 15.43m, Elaine Thompson-Herah, Jamaica – undefeated in seven 100m races – ran world-leading 10.85 over 100m and Ababel Yeshaneh, Ethiopia – broke the world record in the half marathon with 1:04:31 – finished fifth at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships.

“ A three-way voting process will determine the finalists. The World Athletics Council and the World Athletics Family will cast their votes by email, while fans can vote online via the World Athletics’ social media platforms. Individual graphics for each nominee will be posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram this week; a ‘like’ on Facebook and Instagram or a retweet on Twitter will count as one vote. The World Athletics Council’s vote will count for 50% of the result, while the World Athletics Family’s votes and the public votes will each count for 25% of the final result. Voting for the World Athletes of the Year closes at midnight on Sunday 15 November. At the conclusion of the voting process, five men and five women finalists will be announced by World Athletics. The male and female World Athletes of the Year will be announced live at the World Athletics Awards 2020 on Saturday 5 December,’’ the first of the two press releases said. The male nominees were announced on November 2 and the female nominees, on November 3.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

A TURBULENT MIND – MY JOURNEY TO IRONMAN 70.3

This image of the book cover was downloaded from the Internet and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright violation intended.

It was sometime in 2010 that Swetha Amit got her wake-up call. A journalist and writer in Mumbai, hers hadn’t been a disciplined lifestyle. She landed up in hospital. The diagnosis: ulcerative colitis.

The year 2011 was spent recovering and getting back to a healthy existence. Swetha’s husband, Amit Sridharan was training for the half marathon of the 2012 edition of the Mumbai Marathon. She joined the training program. Alongside, she worked on recasting her diet to a healthier option and completely quit eating out. The changes complemented the gym routine she had already in place since a few years earlier. That year – 2012 – she successfully completed the half marathon at the annual Mumbai Marathon.

Her transition to a healthy lifestyle helped her immensely. The very next year, she attempted the full marathon. “ It was a gruelling experience. We had no formal training plan. We just followed the Hal Higdon training plan available on the internet. Back then, we didn’t even GPS enabled devices and such,” Swetha said. Normally in running, transitioning to the full marathon is a journey in itself. Having dived into the full marathon rather early, Swetha nevertheless continued to run half marathons and races of varying distances. Training in Mumbai was fun; there was camaraderie among runners.

In 2017, Swetha moved to the US with Amit and their daughter, Samara. Amit had enrolled for a one-year programme at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University. It took some time getting used to what the US had to offer. Swetha enrolled for creative writing courses at the university. She also decided to attempt the triathlon. Her journey from arrival in the US to participating in the Ironman 70.3 (half Ironman) is narrated well in her book, A Turbulent Mind – My Journey to Ironman 70.3. The book opens with the race day of Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz (California) on September 9, 2018.

For Swetha, there were many issues to contend with before race day. Open water swimming was one of them. The book provides an overview of her trepidations, attempting open water swimming in swim clinics and at triathlons of short distances. A fall from her bicycle that nearly prevented her from participating in one of the triathlons and, later, taking a major decision to not participate in an Ironman 70.3 that she had initially registered for – feature among challenges dotting the journey. Over time, she found good training support for all the disciplines of the triathlon, in California.

Swetha Amit (Photo: courtesy Swetha)

Speaking to this blog in October 2020, Swetha said that her next step would be to work towards attempting the full Ironman, which consists of 3.86 km of swim, 180.25 km of cycling and a full marathon. “Right now, I am in the process of rebuilding my base,” she said. The lockdown caused by pandemic meant no access to pools and gyms. Swetha kept up her fitness routine at home; she was sometimes helped in this by online sessions organised by Mumbai Road Runners (MRR), an informal running group, one of the largest of its sort in Mumbai. Meanwhile, pools and gyms have re-opened in California but the process of building endurance is lengthy and will take time, Swetha said. Compounding the process has been the recent spate of wildfires in California; it restricts outdoor activity.

Shwetha’s book about her personal journey to doing a half Ironman is easy to read. It is structured well; it is also written well. It isn’t a primer on how to train for the triathlon and attempt it. That’s not the motive of the book. It works differently – it should inspire those wanting to try the triathlon. I enjoyed reading it. Hopefully, so do you. Try it.

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)

SEAN CONNERY (1930-2020)

Sean Connery; this image was downloaded from the Facebook page of The Untouchables and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Back in 1987-1988, a film festival in Thiruvananthapuram screened the Brian De Palma classic, The Untouchables.

It was unusual. A Hollywood film was a departure from the regular fare at such festivals. Having heard of the movie from an uncle much impressed by it, my cousin and I made sure to see it.

Born in the late 1960s, I grew up with no particular interest in Sean Connery’s James Bond, the role he is widely known for. His depiction of the spy created by Ian Fleming had spanned the years from 1962 to 1971. My generation’s introduction to James Bond was through Roger Moore’s version of the spy, progressing thereafter to Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. Indeed the first Bond movie I saw was the 1974 release: Man with the Golden Gun. More years would go by before I saw Sean Connery on screen for the first time – incidentally as James Bond – in the 1983 film, Never Say Never Again. The difference between the suave Bonds then in flavor and the Bond of this film was instantly discernible. It had much to do with the persona and screen presence different actors brought to play. I could imagine what Sean Connery’s Bond from the 1960s and early 1970s may have been like. But the earlier films themselves didn’t appeal for as was the case with young people, my expectations from gadgets, stunt sequences and special effects were rooted in a newer generation and its imagination of James Bond.

The Untouchables blew such trivialities away. It’s was a timeless story of crime, corruption and the quest to bring a gangster to book; it connected across generations. The film was superbly directed and its casting seemed spot on. Robert De Niro was already a big star and his appearance as Al Capone in the film was the strongest reason movie aficionados had to see it. For Kevin Costner who played the lead role of Eliot Ness, this was the movie that made him a major league actor. Alongside the riveting story and scenes of the film (who can forget the shoot out at the railway station?), I came off remembering two characters – Sean Connery’s Jimmy Malone and Andy Garcia’s George Stone / Giuseppe Petri. To me the enduring image of Connery is his Jimmy Malone. It was a powerful, no nonsense performance that fittingly earned him an Academy Award; it made him the only actor to have portrayed Bond who bagged an Oscar too in his film career. Since then, I was lucky to see Connery in a basket of films, among them – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Hunt for Red October, The Rock, Entrapment, Finding Forrester and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But it is Jimmy Malone that has weathered the years and survived in my mind. I recall two other roles as well. A fan of war movies, I keep revisiting the 1977 production A Bridge Too Far (directed by Richard Attenborough) which features Connery as Major General Roy Urquhart; I also recall the delight I felt in seeing him as Private Flanagan in the 1962 black and white film, The Longest Day.  

The glamor of Bond in his younger years and competent acting in his later years – this blend, which Connery came to represent, became an ideal to chase for screen personalities who followed. Sean Connery died on October 31, 2020. He was 90 years old. An actor with a distinct voice and accent, he will be remembered by many for the characters he portrayed on screen.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)