I'm Dr. Yash Pandey and I am a high-performance sports physiotherapist. I run a chain of physiotherapy clinics under the brand name Peak Performance. My background, I mean, education has been from the Uk, where I did my specialization in sports injuries. So after pursuing physiotherapy from Bombay, I then moved on with specialization from the UK.

I had an opportunity to work with multiple tennis players Mahesh Bhupati, Rohan Bopanna, Leander Paes, Sania Mirza, to name a few. Have been traveling with the tennis player for almost now, nine years since 2012. 

I've had the opportunity to work with Sheffield United FC and also some of the top Olympians in India once I came back, whether it's Marathoners or Swimmers...Tennis Players, for sure. I've also been a part of the Indian Davis Cup team since 2014. 

How did you get to accompany the Indian contingent in the Rio Olympics? 

So I travel with Rohan Bopanna and some of the other Olympians on a personal level. They wanted me to accompany them to the Olympics also. But with tennis, nobody wanted to send a physio with the tennis contingent. The players revolted, they also had the highest probability of winning a medal. Rohan Bopanna told me that If couldn't go as an official from the Indian contingent, I would still be going with him as a personal thing.  Two days before we left, I got a confirmation from the association that I was going as an official. 

I was mainly focusing on Tennis. And once I went there, then I realized that the athletic guys have nobody with them, like all our marathoners, the sprinters, and a lot of them that I was locally working with here in Bangalore. Usually what happens in the Olympics is that there is a common physio for which you have to stand to our inner queue to get a 10-minute work done. So, yeah, I straight jumped into that. 

For Tennis, I had 4 players to manage. After I finished my work with the tennis guys, I would go help the athletics guys in whatever capacity I could.  By the end of the day, I was dead tired, so whatever I could, I did it. And that's how it all happened to me.

What is typically the role of a physio who accompanies our players?

The thing is when you are accompanying the American Contingent or any Western country, your work is very easy. A physio does only physios job, you know, prevention of injuries or treating an injury. Now, when you go with an Indian contingent and you are the only person you have to be a physio, you have to be their fitness coach, their massage therapist, etc, so you are basically doing everything out there, you know, and you don't want to say no in anything. I mean, if my player says, okay, can you get food from the canteen, I'm going to do it because I want him to only focus on his play and not get stressed about anything else.

How important do you think is a role of a physio to be present with the team? 

If you follow Tennis, you'll see that players these days, their career is prolonged. Federal is playing right now at 39, you know, and he's still there among the top. He's probably not winning a Grand slam, but he's still there.  The only reason, or rather, the most important, the greatest reason why these guys have been still hanging in there and still competing with 20-year-olds and beating them left, right, and center is because of sports science. 

So where we come into the picture is we predict injuries even before it is about to happen. Every day there will be certain things that you could do to find out how the joint is, how the muscles feel. When you release their body, you feel each and every spot in their body. So if you think that in this place or this part of the body feels like it's overstressed, you will have to do something proactively and not wait for it to get injured. So you can predict an injury.

Because if an injury comes then it's done right? The idea first and foremost would be to prevent any injury,  and if there is any slightest tear or an injury, what would you do to make sure that in a competition like the Olympics,  where you can't say that it's okay it's a mild tear, I don't think you should play. That's not an option. You will have to do every possible to handle the situation - you tape it, you massage it, you put a needle there, do some cupping or give some painkiller. If you feel like a doctor should come into the picture and give an injection etc. You will do every possible thing to make sure that thE person plays okay. Only if the situation is so bad that you feel like playing will just make things worse and it's not advisable, then again, you need a physio to tell the player that. So he's the one who's taking a call, whether it's okay to push with this injury or whether you should stay back and let it heal.

So right. From preventing injuries to treating injuries to managing injuries, predicting injuries, everything you need.

The Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world. To get a chance to be a part of it from the inside, how does it feel? 

I get goosebumps even now every time this question comes up. This is one answer which I can't even describe in words. Just the overall feeling of being in an Arena or in the Olympic village where you staying with 10,000 other athletes.

I mean, all these guys are the top guys in the world from their country. Right? So sharing that space with all these guys, the energy is a different level, whether it's, you know, like early morning, three o'clock, four o'clock, late night at 12 o'clock, I see people.I mean, obviously these odd hours, the athletes won't be there, but the support staff going out, not out in the city. We never got a chance to do that. But within the village, there are too many things to do. Acts as a stress buster.

Typically what kind of things can you do in the Olympic village? 

Well, we have games there to play, audio rooms where you can just go chill. There are pool tables, tt tables etc. You can get souvenirs, get your name printed on them, etc.  These types of things are pretty fun. You see athletes getting up early having their sessions in the morning, depending on how their scheduling is. You will have different buildings. You'll have, like, 20, 30 buildings with their country flag.

You know. So obviously countries like the US and UK and Canada, where they are a lot of athletes going, they have like 2 to 3 buildings for them, which are like 20 storied buildings. In countries like India, we were sharing a building with 2, 3 other smaller countries, which didn't have huge participation. So. Yeah. But that overall feeling is a different level.

And then when you are having your dinner and Michael Phelps just walks in, how you know, you can't even imagine. And obviously, you've never seen him, so you don't even recognize him instantly.

He comes in in a hoodie, he's trying to hide his face because everybody is going to go crazy, right. Those types of feelings are crazy and you can't put words to them, you know?

Are there any memories or any incidents that stood out for you? 

There are a lot of good memories but there's one that's stuck in my head: In tennis mixed doubles, we were kind of losing the first match itself, and somehow we managed to sail through. We won that match. And after that, it was a smooth sail to the semifinals. Now in tennis, it's not like you reach the semifinals and you get a bronze straight away. 

So we are into the semis. We are playing the Americans Rajiv Ram, who I actually happened to work with also in the past, and Venus Williams. Do  Rohan and Sania playing against Rajiv and Venus. We get into the match with very high energy, very positive that for the first time, we are going to get a medal. We are going to win this match. We are going to go into the final. A silver medal is for sure. 

We're all positive when something just turns around. Venus starts playing an unbelievable match, the tables completely turn and in the next 20 minutes, we lost the second set. In mixed doubles, there's a 10 point tiebreaker in the third set. We got there and 10 minutes later we have lost the match. By seven points, we missed a guaranteed silver and a chance to play for gold. So that is one memory that obviously still haunts me.

What are some of your thoughts on India's performance in the Olympics in the future? What do we know the most?

The first thing we need is a sporting culture.

So overall, in the Rio Olympics, we had 117 athletes who totally participated. That was the size of the Indian contingent. This year in Tokyo we had 120. Now, if you have only 120 people going in and representing our country, you know, what are the chances of getting better.

Our first aim should be that there are more athletes and there is a bigger number of a sporting population in our country that is first playing a sport. When more people play sport, that's when what you say the hunger to perform at a higher level comes in and you start taking it seriously.

If we moved from 117 to 120, that means we have not really done much right in the last five years. 3 extra athletes. That's not acceptable. So technically we have failed to even increase the number. Forget about medals.So if the system comes into the picture, like the Khelo India and all these things have come into play the school games, college games are into action. I think that's a great initiative by the government that will definitely help more participation. 

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