Tick, tick, tick… Boom | Sports news, The Indian Express

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When the tip of a fencing blade moves at the speed of sound, Bhavani Devis process thoughts at the speed of light. The dizzying speed at which a point is played out means that the first Indian female fencer must do a million calculations in a millisecond: questioning the opponent’s position, reading the movements and developing her own strategy.

If she waits for the guns to be waved, it will be too late. So Bhavani assesses her opponent with a mere glance as she falls. “We can take the clue from the position of the opponent’s weapon, whether he is holding it low, right or left, so that we can predict where he is trying to end his attack or where he is ready.” The defense or the parry ” says Bhavani.

The movements are so economical and yet so fast that even the cameras, which take thousands of images per second, cannot always capture all the subtleties. And not just in their sport. In the fortnight from July 24th, when the first Tokyo Olympics medal is awarded, points will be won and games will be decided based on what happens in the split second between actual actions.

Here’s a hint: It’s not just about the rushing swords, swinging sticks, or swinging paddles. The story often lies in the fleeing eyes.

A little over a decade ago, neuroscientists at MIT did research that linked fast thinking to our perception of the world. Three or four times a second they found that our eyes wander in different directions, which gave the mind less than a tenth of a second to process and understand what it was seeing. Fast processing speed, it has been argued, is critical to the development of intelligence.

Apply that knowledge to a game scenario and it’s more or less what hockey player Harmanpreet Singh faces during a penalty corner situation. Harmanpreet is currently one of the best drag flickers in world hockey – in fact, the former Indian and Dutch coach Paul van Ass regards the 25-year-old Indian as one of the strongest flicker of this generation, as quoted on hockey.nl. However, his drag flickers are as much about the brain as it is about muscle strength.

Before he lets the ball fly – and in the microseconds between push, trap and flick – Harmanpreet has immeasurable mental tasks to do. “One of the first things I see is the position of the goalkeeper, in which direction is he moving? Then I have to see how many rushers rush towards me before I try to identify where the postman is, ”says Harmanpreet.

The rushers are the defenders whose job it is to narrow the angles of a drag flicker by sprinting towards him as soon as the ball is put into play. Usually only one player does this, but sometimes teams use a “double battery” – two defenders, joined at the hips, rushing together, making it even more difficult for the flicker to find room. The “postman” is a player guarding the post, usually the one on the other side of the goalkeeper.

While listening to the defenders’ movements, Harmanpreet has to estimate the speed of the stroke and the position of his left foot at the same time. “If the ball comes quickly, then I prefer to take my foot a step forward than where it will be trapped, rather than parallel. That way I can reduce the distance between the goal and the tip of the ‘D’ from where we take the shot. “

And while he’s taking all of these mental notes, Harmanpreet calculates the angle of his swing, makes the smallest adjustments to his hip position, and decides whether to rely on strength or placement. “It’s about a second between the pass and the trap when we make these observations and decisions. Even a second could be a bit generous, ”says Harmanpreet.

Everything blurred

But at least Harmanpreet has a second or a half. Table tennis star Sathiyan Gnanasekaran doesn’t even have that much luxury. Nevertheless, he is constantly looking for clues – usually during the service and the first two or three shots of the rally, which are usually slow before the ball becomes blurred and instincts take over.

It could be anything – throw, club position, foot position – that can give him a head start in a rally. “If you get on the backhand, you will likely keep your right leg a little more inside the table. People who get the forehand have their leg a little back, ”says Sathiyan. “Similarly, if you see the litter move away from the body a bit, as it gives them some room, it is a sign that it might be a long serve. And when you’re ready for the long service, you can make a really hard return and immediately gain the upper hand in the rally. “

The hardest part is anticipating and negotiating the spin. “That is the most complicated thing. I don’t think there is any sport where the ball spins so much in such a small area, ”says Sathiyan. “If you don’t read the rotation in a split second, you will miss the shot.”

Even in the middle of a lightning-fast rally, Sathiyan constantly keeps an eye on the position of the opposing racket – if he goes under the ball and the racket is flatter, it is an undercut; There is topspin when you are above and closer to the ball, and when the club moves sideways towards or away from your body, it is sidespin.

“At the top level, people try to be as deceiving as possible; say they hold the bat under the ball, but when they hit they bring it up quickly to confuse you, ”Sathiyan says. “These are certain patterns that you can predict. But you cannot assume it. “

The anticipation, he says, comes from years of practice and repetition, which every athlete swears by. With regular practice, they testify that their brain is doing a task with fewer signals and less time.

Harmanpreet, for example, can absorb a hundred different things on a penalty corner because he does 30 to 40 drag flicks every week. “We also practice corners after intensive training when we are tired and exhausted. This is a way of creating game situations – this is how we train our minds to look at all things during a game, even when we are completely drained, ”says Harmanpreet.

Even one of India’s top medal hopes, Vinesh Phogat has trained her mind to multitask while not compromising on strength during a physically demanding wrestling match. Phogat is constantly looking for signals – keeping an eye on the rival’s hands to fend off any attack; the other is put on his feet to find an opening; and at the same time she ensures that her counterclockwise movement on the mat is not sacrificed.

Even Bhavani, a beneficiary of the Rahul Dravid Athlete Mentorship Program, believes that practicing the same actions and movements daily ensures that they can do it during a fight without really thinking about it. “We just do normal training and repeat the parades, techniques and strategies. Just training with lots of the same actions and movements, which helps to react automatically when the same situation arises in a fight, ”she says.

You could slip into autopilot mode when the action begins. But in Tokyo, it is this speed of thinking that separates the good from the great.