Far away, in the secluded north-west German village Bergedorf, Tokyo Olympics-bound equestrian rider Fouaad Mirza is training. Spring has arrived but the spread of COVID-19 in Europe has forced Germany to enforce restrictions strictly. Till a week back, Mirza's training was intense despite the pandemic, given that there were just over three months to the Tokyo Olympics. However, with the Olympics getting postponed by a year, Mirza and his horses Siegneur Medicott, Touching Wood, Fernhill Facetime and Dajara 4 have slowed down the tempo.
Mirza received the news about the postponement with mixed feelings. Speaking to THE WEEK on his way back from the veterinary clinic where he had taken his horse Fernhill Facetime for a check-up, he said, "For me, it was sort of a bittersweet moment. I think I was slightly disappointed due to the fact that we had worked really hard to get to this stage and to qualify for Olympics. We were aiming to peak at those given dates at that given time. But, for equestrian athletes, it gives them more time to prepare and train. So, it's a huge advantage."
The Bengaluru lad became the first Indian equestrian rider in nearly two decades to qualify for the Olympics. He was assured of his place in November but it got the official seal when the International Federation of Equestrian Sports released their rankings of 2019 season.
There is an element of uncertainty regarding his schedules once the competitions resume. "Everything has to be reorgansied, rescheduled. It is still, early days to do so. We don't know when the sports events are going to resume. Sports, entertainment will be the last to resume, I feel. It solely depends on timeline of the virus. Trainging-wise, all athletes know what they need to work on."
Mirza is now focusing on getting his Asian Games medal-winning horse Siegneur Medicott ready for Olympics. The horse was injured and would not have taken part in the Olympics, had it been held on the scheduled date. "Siegneur Medicott was out due to injury, and has resumed training. It would have been difficult to get him to compete this year. The silver lining, in my case, is that we have an extra year to get him in top form. He was the horse which helped us win an individual and a team medal at the Asian Games. To have him back in our team in good health, will be of huge advantage," he said.
The double Asian Silver medallist at 2018 Jakarta Games may be unable to compete for the time being due to lockdown, but with a sparse populated area, he is able to train and work at the stable nearby. His trainer is Sandra Auffarth, a former world champion and an Olympic medallist. She was also in the shortlist to represent Germany at the Tokyo Games. "Training and life in lockdown has been fairly normal. Horses require a lot of looking after and care. We can't afford to sit at home and not take care of them. They have to be exercised, fed, cleaned. We have reduced the intensity of our training. I am fortunate to be in an area not severely affected by COVID-19. Of course, there are restrictions related to visiting supermarkets. Other than going to stable and being around horses, we don't go anywhere. My apartment is 30m away from the stable. So, for me, it's easy."
With Olympics rescheduled, the cost of training and staying abroad, no doubt, has increased. "Yes, the added costs! Equestrian is an expensive sport. Horses are expensive to look after. I am grateful to my sponsor, the Embassy group and Jitu Virwani, for supporting my international career. None of this would have been possible without them."
Meanwhile, with the EFI yet to announce a competition schedule for this year and his Olympic quota secured via topping the zonal qualifications (South East Asia, Oceania), Mirza has decided to focus on getting his minimum eligibility requirement in long format—the CCI 4 star qualification. "I am relieved they haven't changed the qualification status. As soon as the season restarts, my goal is to obtain the CCI 4 star qualification. Once I have that out of way, then it's solely focusing on the Games next year."