Express News Service
POSSIBLE. A Sharath Kamal continues to pronounce this word for the question ‘is it possible to win a medal in singles at the Olympics?’ Taken in isolation, it is a ludicrous claim. Even if Indian players have regularly qualified in table tennis, they have never really challenged the elite. The paddlers’ record is so bad that they’ve only won three games together since 2004. But Sharath, responsible for two of those three wins, makes a compelling argument.
“I have never been ranked higher in an Olympics, I am No. 32. I have a fair chance in singles and a very good chance in mixed doubles (with Manika Batra),” he says daily. “We beat the world’s number 5 in the last qualifying round (in Doha). If we can beat the number 5 in the world, we should be able to compete against the most pairs in the Olympics. That’s why I think in mixed thinking we have a very fair chance of winning a medal. We’ve beaten a few pairs that are in the top eight of the rankings.
We also lost to them. But we both know what it takes to prepare for these big games. “The size of the draw is another big plus. With only 16 pairs, winning two matches will put the bronze medalists of the Asian Games in a semi-final. To work towards this, the pair have worked a lot behind the scenes in Doha. In order for the pair to maintain the momentum and build some continuity ahead of the Games, they will train together at some point, either in Pune (depending on the Covid situation) or in Chennai sometime in the next two months. The 38-year-old also hopes to move beyond the second round of the singles competition, something he has never done in his previous Olympics.
“These will be my best Olympics in terms of performance and results,” he says. Why does he say that? After being ‘sulking’ during the first part of the lockdown last year, he got to work. Not his skills, but he took a close look at his metabolism before deciding to fully master dental mechanics. “I think this is the best I have felt in the last 10 years (physically and mentally). We went into many details during the Covid-19 lockdown, destroying my entire body mechanics. We tried to find out what works and what doesn’t. “A lot of that practice was to keep his back from tightening up after several games and to avoid sharp pains after tournaments. The Chennai player believes it has had the desired effect.
“This is the first time that I don’t feel any pain after five tournaments. We worked on it in a very scientific way. Even now my trainer wants me to lose a few more pounds, but it’s really tough now (laughs). As I always say, even the water I drink turns into fat. But yes, I am very happy with the form in which I am heading for the Olympics. “That’s the only qualifier he is entering for a medal chance in Tokyo.” If I’m in this form in the next three months, it’s possible (a singles medal), “he says.
“But it’s a tournament with a long draw, I have to be at the top of my game for almost twenty-nine days. That’s something I’ll have to find out. At the CWG we had to play all 15 days, but I wasn’t at the top of my game. You can’t afford that at the Olympics. “Amid the usual suspects of wrestling, shooting, boxing and badminton, Sharath & Co. table tennis could provide a compelling look from an Indian perspective.
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