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.)