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The Rediff Interview/Nitin Mongia
'Winning the Nationals gave me confidence'
April 11, 2003
A few years ago, there was this bespectacled, tall and bulging sailor at Hyderabad. He had just won his third successive National Laser title and a few journalists were trying to interview him. But Nitin Mongia, the sailor in question, was quite stuck for words. No, he was not shy; he could mingle well amongst friends. Perhaps, it was just that he wanted his performances to speak.
In comparison to those days, now it is difficult to keep Nitin quiet. He's grown in age and stature. And if he can give interviews, it says a lot about his confidence.
In a span of eight months, Nitin has almost touched the moon, a silver at the Busan Asian Games in September 2002, and now the World title, in Goa in early April, both in the OK Dinghy class.
It is also the first time that an Indian sailor has touched the pinnacle in a single-hander boat. India have produced two pairs of World champions in the Enterprise (Farokh Tarapore and Kelly Rao, in 1991, and Homi Motivala and Pushpendra Garg, in 1993) and one in the 420 (Farokh Tarapore and Vikas Kapila), and both classes are double handers.
Coming from the Mongia stable, Nitin's achievement is not surprising. What is, is that it took some time in coming. His father, Surinder, served in the Navy and has, apart from winning a silver at the World Enterprise championship in Canada, groomed a legion of sailors over the years. Older brother Ashim, who also briefly served in the Navy, is a two-time silver medallist at the World Enterprise and a bronze medallist at the Busan Asian Games.
Nitin is now launching a bid for Olympic glory. A medal in the Star (sailed by two persons) class is what R Mahesh (helm) and he (crew) are aiming for.
In an interview with S Ayyappa Swamy, Nitin opens out, and quite easily at that, on his World OK Dinghy conquest and hopes of a Star class medal at the coming Olympics.
At what stage of the World OK Dinghy championship did you think the title is within your reach?
I think the confidence came before that. The National OK Dinghy championship was held just before the World championship and at the same venue [off Donna Paula in Panjim, Goa]. It was an Open event and even the world-class New Zealand sailors participated in it. I won the title, and very easily, by finishing first in six races. Then during the World championship, Nick Craig of Great Britain tried to reopen a protest from an earlier race and the move failed. He was a shattered man and I grew more confident. I knew I just had to finish in the first eight in the sixth race and win the title without sailing the seventh. I achieved the target.
Did you think you could win the title so easily?
Never. Everything, touch wood, fell together after the second race. Moreover, some others, like Greg Wilcox and Ben Morrisson, did not achieve good results. That also worked in my favour. As I said before, winning the Nationals gave me tremendous confidence.
Was it a full-strength fleet?
It was quite a strong fleet, without an iota of doubt. Wilcox was the defending champion and Craig and Morrison were capable sailors. There were 10 sailors in this fleet who had finished in the top 10 in the last 10 years. Barring a couple of quality sailors from Denmark, this was a world-class fleet.
What has been your previous best in the World championship?
This is the fourth time I'm participating in the Worlds. Twice I finished 20th (Poland, in 2000, and Sweden, in 2001) and once 26th (New Zealand, in 2002).
How has the sailing fraternity received your achievement?
I think everyone is quite pleased. In the history of Indian sailing this is a first. And I hope it will boost all single-hander sailors in the country.
Coming to the Olympics, you have chosen to sail the Star, which is not sailed in India at all, nor sailed by you extensively...
It is most-suited to our weight. In fact, we need to put on more weight. I need to be around 106 kg while Mahesh should be around 80. [He jokingly says, he needs to eat a lot of ice cream]. We decided to sail the Star only after coming from the Asian Games last year. It is a bigger dinghy than the Enterprise, which both of us have extensively sailed. All we need is sometime on the boat.
Are things moving towards that end?
Yes, of course. We have recently procured a Star for practice. In May-June we will be travelling to Europe to sail in five championships. We will also be hiring the services of a coach, Frederik Loof of Sweden, who will train us in handling, setting and tuning.
Why did you decide to team up with R Mahesh [bronze medallist in the Enterprise class at the Busan Asian Games]?
We share a good rapport. He coached me during the World OK. It's immaterial that he is helming and I'm crewing. What's more important is that confidence we share while sailing together.
What are your realistic chances of qualifying, and winning a medal at the Olympics?
Only 17 countries can participate at the Olympics. It's as difficult for us as it is for them. We are extremely confident. Five of the 17 places have already been assured and seven are available this year at the World championship in September. The remaining five of the quota will be filled up next year. I reckon there are about 20 countries trying for the remaining 12 spots.
What kind of effort are you putting in for the Olympics?
There is tremendous sacrifice involved. I have had to be off work [Mongia is a stock broker by profession] for almost year. I have a young daughter [Krisha] and she cannot be left alone. So my wife, Dipti, [she's a graphic designer] has to freelance from home.
There are no sponsors forthcoming. Myself and Mahesh have to sail six days a week, train in the gym ... aerobics, weights, squash and something for all-round fitness. I have to put on weight but also ensure there is not much fat. But it's now or never for me. I will never be able to take so much time off work in the future.
Sailing is such a costly sport. Because of the cost involved, did you ever think of quitting?
Only once. That was in 1998, when I fell sick while campaigning for the Bangkok Asian Games. I consulted dietician Anjali Mukherjee and what she recommended simply did not work with me. I used to run for more than an hour but after going on her diet, I was panting while climbing stairs. That was the time I almost thought of quitting. I gave it a last shot at the National Laser championships the same year. I won and that was the turnaround.
Eventually, though the costs and inputs are tremendous and the dividends less, it is the overall satisfaction that matters. I have been very involved in sailing right from an early age, thanks to my father and brother.
National Laser champion: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1997, 1998, 1999.
National OK Dinghy champion: 2000, 2001, 2003.
Asian championship match racing: Bronze at Hong Kong 1993 and silver at Singapore in 1995.
Asian championship: Silver at Busan in 2001
Asian Games: Silver at Busan in 2002
World OK Dinghy: Champion in Goa in 2003.
Photographs: JEWELLA C MIRANDA