India capable of podium finish in 2020 Olympics: TT star Sharath Kamal
Riding high on the success of the recently-concluded Asian Games, India's top-ranked paddler Achanta Sharath Kamal is hopeful that India will finish on the podium at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
Kamal scripted history when the men's team won India's first medal, bronze, in table tennis at the Asian Games. He also won the bronze with Manika Batra in the mixed doubles category making it the best-ever outing for the country in the sport.
"Winning a medal at the Asiad is close to bagging a medal at the World Championships or the Olympics. It is a good milestone to judge," Sharath Kamal said.
"This (Asian Games) medal is an indication that we are capable of making it to the podium even at the Olympics. Seven of thetop 10 countries in the sport are from Asia. To win a medal here is such a boost. It gives us a forward vision (ahead of the Olympics)."
The veteran paddler said there is now also a possibility that he would qualify for three events -- men's singles, men's team and mixed doubles -- at the Tokyo Olympics, a feat he has been unable to achieve before.
Sharath Kamal, who paired up with Manika for the first time in the mixed doubles category, said he has finally found the right partner in her.
"Mixed doubles is not my cup of tea. The boss is the woman there. They set up the game while men finish the rally. I couldn't find the right match all these years but with Manika, I am able to," he said.
Asked about his future plans, Sharath Kamal said he has no plans of retiring and fitness will be vital in making that call.
"I am way fitter than what I was. A lot of changes have happened in the last three years. I have moved back to India and I'm training a lot here. I don't have the pressure of playing matches week in and week out now. I am able to invest more timing into training," he said.
"I can even play till 2024 (laughs). I have been delivering my best and things are on a roll. If I manage to stay fit and motivated, it can go on. I am keeping it open."
Sharath Kamal said going into the Asiad the thought in the camp was that there was a slim chance of winning a medal and all depended on a favourable draw and luckily things went the team's way.
"Ahead of the Games, we thought that there was only a slim chance. We were hoping for a favourable draw and were raring to play our best possible game. Fortunately, it panned out the way we wanted it to be," he said.
Sharath Kamal, who is ranked 35th in the ITTF rankings, also said that the backing from the federation and the government is benefitting the players.
"We are getting the right kind of funding and we are able to put it for the right kind of exposure. That is helping us all do well in the international scene. In the last two years, we have been consistently beating top-ranked players in every tournament we go," he said.
Recalling numerous good performances in recent times and crediting the coaching staff led by Massimo Constantini, Sharath Kamal said the team is motivated to win a medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
"Exposure to international tournaments have paid rich dividends in the form of winning highest number of medals at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. With these performances the Indian team and the coach are highly motivated to achieve the ultimate dream of an Olympic Games medal at the 2020 Games," he signed off.