Cheers to these four young Indian sailors; India bags its spot at the Olympics in sailing for the first time
April 8 marked the historic day for India when four Indian sailors; Nethra Kumanan, Ganapathy Chengappa, Varun Thakkar and Vishnu Saravanan secured a spot in Tokyo Olympics 2021 (July 23 to August 8). This is the maximum number of sailors who have qualified from India for a single edition of the Olympics. While Nethra became the first Indian woman sailor to qualify for the Olympics in the Laser Radial — a single-handed boat sailed by one person; Ganapathy and Varun Thakkar made the cut for Tokyo in the Asian Qualifiers in Oman finishing at the top of the points table in the 49er class — two-handed high-performance skiff. On the other hand, Vishnu won the qualification spot in the Laser Standard Class. The four qualifiers speak to Indulge about their journey and preparation for the championship.
Into the blue
Elated with her achievement, Nethra recalls her time at various summer camps from the age of 12 — including one by the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association. Just after a decade she became the first woman sailor of India to qualify for the Olympics. “I have participated in many sports while growing up, but nothing interested me as much as sailing. I love being in the ocean with the winds and the tides,” says the 22-year-old Chennai-based sailor.
Although sailing is majorly considered a men’s sport, Nethra (being trained in Europe) stays unfazed. “I haven’t come across this discrimination. However, I feel women in India surely need to be treated equally. My achievement will surely prove that women are equal. Women are physically different but they have proved themselves in all fields. We put in the same amount of effort,” adds Nethra. The champion also opens up about her challenges as she talks about dealing with mental stress. “I was told that I am not good and people would not even consider me as a sailor. There was a lot of mental stress. I worked it out and it took me too long to realise that everyone has their own journey and I have started performing well now,” she shares.
As of now Nethra is spending time with her family and preparing for her travel to Gran Canaria (Spain), for further training before heading to Tokyo.
In the same boat
Growing up in Chennai, Ganapathy and Varun decided to follow their passion to be at sea and made sailing their priority at the age of six and eight respectively. As children, they were friends, while one chose sailing for fun; the latter was introduced to sailing by his father (Ashok Thakkar, vice president, club and development, Yatching Association of India). And that resulted in them becoming the first duo to promise to bring glory to the nation.
“The time and commitment that we have given has helped us get where we are. This is the result of years of hard work and training,” says Varun, and Ganapathy also agrees that their spot at the Olympics is a result of several sacrifices. “I was sailing on all my birthdays. I have never gone to parties because I wanted to spend that time at sea,” shares the 25-year-old sailor, who travels 45 minutes every day to reach the training academy and spends about three hours at sea apart from physical training.
Being on the same team is not always smooth sailing. “When you are working in a team, you have differences on a few things but there is always a bigger picture in mind, which is to complete the race. We try to keep things simple and work it out,” says 26-year-old Varun. While things break loose owing to misunderstandings, their vision and goal come to their rescue. Ganapathy sums it up saying, “We have been friends for 18 years, so we always end up with what is best for the game.”
As of now, the duo is at home in Chennai and will travel to Portugal for further training before leaving for the Olympics.
Ahead of the tide
Twenty-two-year-old Subedar Vishnu Saravanan of the Mumbai-based Army Yachting Node has become the youngest Indian sailor ever to qualify for the Olympics till date in the sailing discipline. In a fiercely contested series of ten fleet races and one medal race, the sailor from the Madras Engineers Group proved his mettle by securing a silver medal and winning the qualification spot for the Tokyo Olympics. Vishnu Saravanan, who is a part of the Boys Sports Company scheme, is currently training under the Mission Olympics programme of the Indian Army.
Vishnu overcame stiff competition and was tied on points twice with Olympian Keerati Bualong (Thailand) after ten races, in the recently concluded Mussanah Open Championship at AI Mussanah Sports City, Oman. “I always wanted to participate in the Olympics because no one has done that before from India. I want to be the first sailor to do this from the country. It came as a motivation for me. I have realised lately, that I am doing better and then I thought of beating all the other sailors from India and reaching the Olympics,” says Subedar Vishnu, matter-of-factly.
Vishnu started sailing at the age of nine on an Optimist (a small sailing
dinghy) boat. He attributes his love for the sea to his father Ramchandra Saravanan, a former sailor himself, who was unable to pursue sailing as a sport professionally. “My father wanted to participate in the Olympics and Asian Games. I got interested in the world of sailing while growing up. It’s nice to be at sea, with the wind always on your face,” he adds.
Vishnu has several under-16 National Championships to his credit. And in 2014, he jumped into the Laser category (a single sailing boat) and began preparing for the Olympics. “I participated in the Rio Olympics in 2016 to check my capabilities and realised I can do that. The Indian Army then sent me for further training in Malta, where I trained for the qualifying championship. I will be spending over two months in Malta training with my coach Alex, before I head to Tokyo in mid-July,” says Vishnu, who has trained for about six hours at sea every day for the last three years. The Junior Commissioned Officer who has age on his side is confident that his discipline and training will bring glory to the nation in the International arena. Post this Olympics, Vishnu has his eyes set on the Asian Games 2022 in China.