From spending more than Rs 1 lakh per month for training to hiring boats at huge cost for international events, the four Indian sailors who have qualified for the Olympics have a lot to thank their parents for in their journey to make the cut for the Tokyo Games.
In a historic first for India, four sailors from the country – Nethra Kumanan (laser radial event), Vishnu Saravanan (laser standard class), and the pair of Ganapathy Chengappa and Varun Thakkar (49er class) made the cut for the Tokyo Games at the Asian Qualifiers in Oman.
But their feat came after a lot of struggle and financial hardships of their parents.
“For Varun, sailing has been a passion since childhood. But lack of training area is a problem, there is no academy. He trains at Chennai Port Trust. The Tamil Nadu government has promised to build an academy at Marina Beach. We are waiting for that,” Varun’s father Ashok Thakkar told PTI from Chennai.
Sailing runs in the blood for Varun as his father is associated with Tamil Nadu Sailing Association besides being in the shipping business.
“I spend at least Rs 1.5 lakh every month for Varun. It is a costly sport, the equipment is costly. The training hours are also long. Varun normally trains six hours a day,” Ashok said.
“But it is all worth it. My son has done the country proud by qualifying for the Olympics. We are hoping he and the entire Indian team do well in Tokyo.”
The 26-year-old Varun, currently a B.Com third-year student, won his first national senior championships in 2008 and from there on he has not looked back.
He won a gold in the 2018 Asian Championship, a bronze with Ganapathy in the 2018 Asian Games, and a silver in the 2019 49er Asian Championships.
VC Kumanan, the father of Nethra, said it was affordable at the beginner’s level but became expensive as his daughter aimed higher.
“At the beginning, it is not costly, when you climb up the ladder, it does become expensive. There are costs involved including travel, stay, etc,” Kumanan said.
Vishnu’s father Ramachandran Saravanan did not have to spend that much as his son normally uses the boats provided by the Indian Army in Mumbai.
He retired last year as Subedar Major at the Indian Army Yachting Node at South Mumbai.
“Sailing is called a royal sport. A boat for Vishnu costs Rs 9 lakh but luckily Indian Army provides it for him. We spend around Rs 50,000 per month for his training and all,” Ramachandran, who is also Vishnu’s personal coach, said.
“When Vishnu competes outside the country, there is a problem. We cannot take our boats because it will cost Rs 5-6 lakh to carry a boat outside the country.
“We have to hire boats at the place where competition is held and we spend Rs 2-3 lakh for hiring a one-design boat for 15-20 days,” he said.
“One-design boats are the same everywhere in the world in their size, weight and design,” he said.
The 23-year-old Nethra won her first senior national championships gold in 2015. She won a bronze in a World Cup Series event in US in January last year. She also took part in the 2014 and 2018 Asian Games.
“Being able to go to the Olympics is by itself a big thing and it was her dream to qualify. Her hard work over the years has paid off,” VC Kumanan told PTI from Mussanah in Oman.
“Qualifying is wonderful. But the Olympics is another level. It is not going to be easy and that is top-level sport. She has to train hard to achieve good results in Tokyo,” he added.
The Chennai sailor was stuck in Spain during the Covid-19 enforced lockdown last year but used the time in hand to train with international sailors in Gran Canaria.
“From April 2020 till the middle of March this year, she trained with international athletes in Gran Canaria, which has helped her a lot,” Kumanan said of his daughter, who is pursuing her second-year engineering at SRM Engineering College in Chennai.
“She has played tennis, basketball, tried her hand at art and Bharatnatyam. Somehow, she got attracted to sailing when we took her to a camp organised by TNSA at the age of 12.”
“From then, Nethra was very interested in sailing.”