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September 29, 2000
'I felt overwhelmed', says PaulomiThe Rediff Team
India's youngest Olympian in the Sydney team made her bow on September 17, in the table tennis arena. Facing Veronica Pavlovich of Belarus, Paulomi Ghatak went down 21-14, 21-17, 21-16 -- a scoreline that belies the good fight the 17-year-old put up in that Olympic debut.
A day later, she then played Anne Boileau of France -- and was given a lesson in table tennis, with the French girl handing out a 21-12, 21-9, 21-9 defeat.
"The two players against whom I was pitted belong to the top-20 category in world ranking. They were so speedy and aggressive that at times I was left wondering whether I was competing with men," Poulami, just returned from Sydney, told the media at a briefing yesterday.
She also received a lesson in relativity -- the reigning national women's singles champion found she just didn't make the international grade.
But then, Poulami is not disillusioned, simply because she had no illusions to start with. "I didn't go there thinking I could win medals, I would have been happy to beat a top player or two," she says. "Unfortunately it didn't quite work out that way."
For the young Indian, thus, Sydney is filed away as a learning experience. "I have to improve in some technical aspects, especially footwork and return of serve. The Chinese are very good there, on their toes all the time, even mentally they are very strong."
What she found most difficult was getting to grips with the pace on the ball. "The top players serve and hit the ball with so much power on the serve that I found it difficult. In the rallies I was okay, it was when facing serve that I had my biggest problems."
The crowds were a new factor, for a teenager who has never seen more than a handful of people at an Indian venue. "I couldn't even hear the ball land on the board, my senior colleagues advised me to concentrate more," she says. "I have never seen so many people at a table tennis match."
The teen is already looking ahead, to Athens 2004. "By then, I will be 21, I hope that will be just right for me to give it my best shot," says the youngster, who will now return to the SAI academy in Calcutta where she trains with Tapan Chanda.
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