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Swimming with turtles: Lockdown training makes a splash in India

India's swimmer SP Likith trains in a makeshift pool he shares with turtles and fish at a farm in Adyanadka, Karnataka state
India's swimmer SP Likith trains in a makeshift pool he shares with turtles and fish at a farm in Adyanadka, Karnataka state Handout Courtesy of SP Likith/AFP
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New Delhi (AFP)

From swimming in a makeshift farm pool with turtles and fish to fencing with a dummy on a terrace, India's locked down athletes are finding novel ways to stay fit.

The postponement of the 2020 Olympics by a year has given SP Likith, India's top breaststroke swimmer, extra time to make the 59.93sec qualifying time for the 100 metres.

He has been stuck at his coach's farm in Karnataka state since February and now swims in a tank already inhabited by wildlife that normally supplies the water for crops and vegetables.

The 21-year-old from Bangalore, who still has to shave two seconds off his personal best to qualify, told AFP he was "lucky" to have the 20-metre long tank where coach Partha Varanashi drills 15 swimmers in all.

"The only difference (from a pool) is .. the water is not clear at all, there are fish and turtles and we don't have lanes," Likith said with a laugh.

"It is not boring, it is fun. Right now our main goal is to keep our immunity high, so it's just five or six swimming sessions a week and the rest is yoga and other stuff."

- Fencing for dummies -

Fencer Bhavani Devi has been in quarantine and training alone at home in the southern city of Chennai since returning from Italy on March 15.

The 26-year-old sabre fencer trains with a dummy on the terrace of her house.

"This is not a new idea for me, when I started fencing we used to play with sticks and do target training by placing a mask or target pad on the wall," said Devi, who in 2017 became the first Indian to win a fencing World Cup event.

Devi, who is more used to the plush facilities of leading Italian coach Nicola Zanotti in Livorno, said it was imperative to keep a positive mind through the crisis.

"This period is for me to prepare myself the best with the sources available and be ready when things resume," she said.

"At the same time being at home for this long time is more special for me after many years. That gives more energy too."

- Mental drain -

India's top 400m sprinter Muhammed Anas, aiming for a second straight Olympics, admitted that the lockdown has taken a mental toll on his preparations.

Anas, part of the mixed 4x400m relay team, moved to the National Institute of Sports in Patiala in February and stayed there as the number of coronavirus cases surged in India.

"For an athlete like me, who spends most time training outdoors, the lockdown does sometimes mentally drain me," said the 25-year-old, who won a silver medal at 2018 Asian Games.

But indoor training, some "light entertainment" and staying in contact with his family and friends has helped overcome "the mental tension".

The uncertainty over whether the Olympics will ever go ahead weighs on all the athletes. "It does bother a bit," said Anas.

"But I am more of a glass half-full person so, I am looking at the brighter side at the moment as I am getting more time to train."

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