Indian athletes aiming for qualification to Tokyo 2020 suffer setback

The cancellation of the Indian Grand Prix and postponement of the Federation Cup were major blows for Indian athletes.

By Olympic Channel Writer ·

The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) confirmed the cancellation of the Indian Grand Prix hours before its scheduled commencement on Thursday evening following government directives to avoid conducting events till April 15 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Besides the cancellation of the Indian Grand Prix that was slated to take place at NIS Patiala, the AFI also confirmed that it was postponing next month’s Federation Cup National Senior Championships to a later date.

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"The Indian GP at Patiala will not be held on Friday. It is unfortunate for the athletes who are trying to qualify for the Olympics, but the health of Indian people is more important than sports,” Indian athletics' High Performance Director Volker Herrmann told the Press Trust of India news agency.

“So, with regret, we took the decision to cancel the first Indian GP on Friday. The second GP (also to be held in Patiala on March 25) has also been cancelled. All sporting events have been suspended till April 15 and the AFI respects the government's decision in the larger interest of the country and the health and well being of its people,” he pointed out.

As a result, not only the Indian Grand Prix but the Federation Cup scheduled for April 10-13 has also been postponed, Herrmann confirmed.

“There is no other way for the AFI than respect the government's decision,” he said. "We will try to hold the Federation Cup in May or June, depending on the situation (of the COVID-19 pandemic). 

We cannot say now when it will be held but we have to still keep the options open as the Olympics is still on," he explained.

Indian athletes left in Olympic qualification limbo

These cancellations are the last thing Indian athletes still vying for their berth at the Olympics would have been hoping for.

India’s long jump national record holder Murali Sreeshankar is one such athlete, looking to make the Tokyo 2020 cut (entry standard 8.22m) in the discipline.

“I'm planning to go all out and qualify in the first competition itself,” Murali Sreeshankar had told Sportstar. “I've rectified all the mistakes I had made last season, everything is looking solid. I just need to get the right jump at the right moment.”

Like Murali Sreeshankar, Karthik Unnikrishnan, who pipped Asian Games triple jump champion Arpinder Singh to gold in last September’s Indian GP, is also under a cloud of uncertainty as far as his Olympic participation is concerned.

“I'm looking at 17.20m, that's the target. I'm doing close to 17m in training. Yes, there is a sense of urgency and that's why the goal is to get the Olympic qualification standard of 17.14m in the first competition itself,” Karthik Unnikrishnan had insisted.

“My speed has improved and I feel I've become more explosive. And I used to have a problem getting my balance right during the jump phase...that has been set right,” he said.

Arpinder Singh, meanwhile, made it clear that he’s looking forward to competing in the Inter-State Nationals in June.

“My main focus will be the inter-state nationals in June because I've made some changes in my technique. I need a little more time,” Arpinder Singh had said.

The Sports Ministry of India had earlier issued an advisory for all national camps, except for those where athletes are preparing for Tokyo Olympics, to be postponed until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.