Meet the three young sailors from Chennai who will represent India at the Olympics

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Nethra Kumanan, Varun Thakkar and KC Ganapathy talk about their rigorous training schedule, living the dream, and why Chennai is a great place for sailing

The sea at the port of Chennai must be proud. Three of the children who learned to sail in its waters will now make their Olympic debut in Japan. Of the four Indians who qualified for sailing at the upcoming event in July, three – Nethra Kumanan, Varun Thakkar and KC Ganapathy – are from Chennai. The fourth is Vishnu Saravanan from Mumbai.

“In Chennai, the sea offers variety and good sailing conditions almost all year round, making it one of the best sailing spots in the world,” said Nethra Kumanan, 23, the first Indian woman. to qualify for the Olympics. “Being the first wife was not the goal or the goal, but it happened and I am extremely honored to have been able to achieve it for my family who gave so much so that I could do what I all do. the days, ”she adds, speaking from Hungary where she trains at Lake Balaton.

Young sailors in Chennai have the advantage of being trained at clubs like the Royal Madras Yacht Club (RMYC) and the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association (TNSA), which hold summer camps for children and adults each year.

Not so long ago, Nethra was also a 13-year-old wide-eyed summer camp attendee at TNSA. After the 2011 summer camp, loving the sea, she found herself returning to port to sail every weekend.

Varun Thakkar, Nethra Kumanan, Vishnu Saravanan and Ganapathy KC: the four Indians qualified for sailing at the next Olympic Games

Varun Thakkar, Nethra Kumanan, Vishnu Saravanan and Ganapathy KC: The four Indians qualified for sailing at the next Olympic Games | Photo credit: Srinivas Aditya P

It has since been a tumultuous but rewarding journey, bordered by incredible upheaval, as well as exhilarating victories. Spending many months away from her family, she underwent rigorous training, tackling everything from rough seas to serene lakes. At Lake Balaton, Nethra says she takes time to relax and rejuvenate, preparing herself mentally and physically for the games. Before that, she practiced at an academy on the sunny island of Gran Canaria in Spain. “With sailing, which is an experience sport, there is no way to fully reproduce the real scenario in training. So we travel a lot and run to different places to have this experience, ”she explains, adding that conditions in Japan can be erratic. We can expect medium winds and waves like in Gran Canaria or sometimes light and staggered, like on a lake. Participants must therefore be ready for anything.

Meanwhile at the end of Europe, in Portugal, Varun, 26, and Ganapathy, 25, persevere. They form a team and have been since 2014. As the world’s premier sporting event looms, they train long hours (four hours of sailing followed by training), crossing the blue waters of the Atlantic, wiping sweat, salt water and sometimes sleep from their eyes. “We are training here in Cascais (a seaside resort west of Lisbon) because the wind and waves are almost similar to Enoshima, the sailing site for the Olympics,” Varun explains.

Meet the three young sailors from Chennai who will represent India at the Olympics

Despite the pressure, they are delighted to “live the dream”. “We told so many people that we were going to qualify for the Olympics. So happy that we can preach, ”says Ganapathy. Varun adds: “Qualifying for the country seemed unreal. We dreamed of going to the Olympics when we were kids and getting there and representing our country on the biggest stage will be an experience we will not forget.

This year, with the pandemic, there have been additional challenges. “Things are much more difficult when it comes to getting permission to travel and train,” says Ganapathy. “We stay in our bubble and do all our training together. We don’t meet a lot of people, but it helped us stay focused, ”says Nethra.

The boys participate in the “high performance skiff called the 49er class”. They qualified for the Oman Olympics in April this year at the Asian Olympic Qualifying Championships. At the same event, Nethra qualified in the radial laser class. She sails on the lone female dinghy.

What awaits us

At the Olympic Games, the Varun and Ganapathy category will have 12 races spread over six days. Nethra explains that there are currently 10 classes of Olympic sailing boats. “In my class, we have 44 teams this year, by far the most participating countries this time around due to the new mandate on gender equality of the International Olympic Committee,” she adds.

For Nethra, Varun and Ganapathy, the second time was the charm. Their first attempt to seal a berth at the Rio 2016 Olympics was unsuccessful. “Varun and I were very young and new to the boat. We finished fourth at this event, Ganapathy recalls. The duo believe they have qualified this year as they have been relentlessly pursuing this goal since the age of 14.

In a sea of ​​unfamiliar faces, the Chennai trio will have the comfort of familiarity with one another. Given the additional challenges of COVID-19, their plans for Japan are built around their respective events, with little time to explore the country. “It’s a huge disappointment,” said Ganapathy, adding that this will be his first trip to Japan with Varun’s. “But we are grateful that the Olympics continue despite the pandemic,” he adds.

Nethra, who traveled to Japan for a competition in 2019, says she had to put her plans to climb Mount Fuji aside. “Due to COVID-19, we are not allowed to use public transport or ride bicycles. You can only go between the sailing village and the port, so you can’t plan much else, ”she says. But all three agree that the whole atmosphere is going to make for an exciting debut at the Olympics.


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