Friday, October 17, 2008

A hard pill to swallow

September 4, 2008:
AS SOME of you may know, I just returned from the Olympics a couple of weeks ago. Though I personally did not do as well as I had hoped, it was still a great experience, to watch so many athletes from so many different sports, all very focused on giving their best in their respective events, quite incomparable with any other event that I have been part of so far in my career.

The Olympics comes only once every four years, so everyone wants to plan well, train hard and generally be in the best possible shape for it. I had hired Tom John as a personal travelling coach from March to August to give me a little bit more push in my preparation for Beijing. I felt like I had been stagnating a bit and wanted to see if working with Tom could give me that extra something that you always need. I felt like the six months went quite well, a couple of injuries notwithstanding. I improved a lot in the physical conditioning department and felt very strong on court.

On arriving at Beijing, I expected to see everything organized perfectly, with maximum efficiency, and I was not surprised that it was exactly like that. From the pick up at the airport, to the check-in at the athletes’ village, everything went fine. On the way to the village, I saw the Bird’s Nest athletics stadium and the Water Cube aquatic centre. I thought both looked amazing but I personally preferred the Water Cube, which looked amazing, especially at night. The volunteers were extremely friendly and helpful, and the accommodation at the village was also superb.

The Indian contingent was staying in the block A-1. It was nice to meet Indians from other sports. It was a really good sign to see that everyone was there to put up their best performance and not just to be a participant.

I was having trouble with my ankle, so I decided to skip the opening ceremony because it would have involved a lot of standing and walking, and while that would not be a problem, I just wanted to avoid any unnecessary strain, especially since I was playing the next day. As far as my matches went, I prepared for them as I would in any other tournament. I got through the first one okay, but I was quite disappointed with the loss to Shoji Sato in the second round. I felt like I didn’t start off very well, and was always struggling to find some rhythm, and never really got going. It’s going to be a tough pill to swallow, to accept that I came away from Beijing without playing my best, which I’d promised to do. When you’ve seen yourself do something in your head so many times, and it doesn’t happen, I guess it takes a while to get over.

When we heard that Abhinav Bindra had won gold in his event, it gave us such a big boost. Just knowing that he’d done so well made us feel like we could as well. Everyone was very happy of course, and we had a small printout congratulating him stuck on our IOA office door.

Another worthwhile thing to talk about was Saina Nehwal’s run to the quarters. She has been an inspiration to all of us in the last few years. She got through a couple of rounds before beating Wang Chen in a very good match. Unfortunately, she missed out in the quarters after being up by quite a bit, but it’s hard to think what she had done wrong. Her opponent Yulianti played unbelievably to get through that match.

To wrap up, I think being in such an event lets you know where you are in comparison with everyone else in the world, and how hard you need to work to get to their level. I think the way the Chinese went about their business, in every sport, was fantastic. I hope we are able to put up a good show in Delhi in two years’ time at the Commonwealth Games. All of us athletes are working very hard towards ensuring a good result. I hope our administrators and officials do the same and organise a great event.

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