How veteran Indian athletes are staving off retirement for Tokyo Games

Archer Tarundeep Rai, paddler Sharath Kamal and the legendary Leander Paes are a few veteran sportspersons who may need to reconsider their retirement plans.

While the postponing of the Tokyo Games due to the COVID-19 pandemic has affected different athletes in various ways, India’s veteran sports superstars will have to recalibrate their plans leading into the Olympics in 2021.

Seasoned Indian archer Tarundeep Rai is one such example and the two-time World Championship silver medallist is approaching the Games next year as a new challenge.

“For me, the postponement of the Olympics means I will get older by one year, so it will be a new challenge,” the Sikkimese archer told the Press Trust of India. “No doubt I have a bit ahead in terms of experience, but the real challenge will be to stay fit and compete with the rising young talents.”

Archer Tarundeep Rai has represented India at the 2004 Athens and the 2012 London Games
Archer Tarundeep Rai has represented India at the 2004 Athens and the 2012 London GamesArcher Tarundeep Rai has represented India at the 2004 Athens and the 2012 London Games

Postponement intensifies competition

While young up and coming archers could raise the competition for the 36-year-old, Tarundeep Rai is nevertheless preparing for it by taking the additional time to build his shoulder muscles to withstand the challenges.

“There’s a positive side to it (postponement). There will be competition and we will make a strong team for the Olympics and hopefully, the women’s team will also qualify, giving us good hope for a medal next year,” Tarundeep Rai explained.

Table tennis star Sharath Kamal is another veteran who at 37 years of age finds himself in a similar position.

"I'm at an age where even water becomes fat," Sharath Kamal quipped in a telephonic interview with the Times of India.

Olympic participation enough motivation to stay fit

The Indian paddler, who was considering retirement after Tokyo 2020 this year, feels that irrespective of the prevailing circumstances, Olympic participation itself should serve as enough motivation for athletes.

"The main thing is that it's the Olympics. The idea itself is so big. Even if I'm playing the last or the quarter-finals, you are in it for just that. Doesn't matter if it's one year or four years, that's what keeps me going,” Sharath Kamal pointed out.

Unlike Tarundeep Rai, Sharath Kamal doesn’t feel that the Olympics Games taking place next year will be more of a challenge due to his age.

“I don't think age matters so much. It's just the timing of your form, I'd guess. Everyone's talking of my age, but the truth also is that I'm playing my best table tennis now,” said Sharath Kamal, who will turn 38 this July.

A change of plans for Leander Paes on the cards 

Speaking of age being just a number, perhaps no sportsperson embodies that better than the evergreen Leander Paes.

Leander Paes in the zone: India tennis legend recalls medal moment

Leander Paes in the zone: India tennis legend recalls medal moment

The Olympic bronze medallist from Atlanta 1996 had announced that 2020 would be his last year in the professional tennis circuit as he eyed a swansong at Tokyo but the postponement could change his plans.

"It's a decision that me and my team are thinking about very hard," Leander Paes had told ESPN.

"We will make a decision shortly on whether to continue and make this one last roar, a really long roar," the Indian tennis legend said.

Both his father Vece Paes, who won a bronze medal with the Indian hockey team at Munich 1972, and former doubles partner Mahesh Bhupati believed that Leander Paes can continue for another year, even before the postponement.

Going by Leander Paes’ love for the Olympics, it’s hard to see him walk away from court without having a crack at the Tokyo Games.

He along with Tarundeep Rai, Sharath Kamal and six-time boxing world champion MC Mary Kom will be 37 years old or more by the time Tokyo 2021 comes around.

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