Yoga and practice: How table tennis champ Sharath Kamal is chasing his Olympics dream

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Eyeing for glory, table tennis veteran Sharath Kamal next hopes to take the sport he dearly loves to the masses

The year 2011 was one of the worst in paddler Sharath Kamal’s career. His world rankings plummeted to 94, the lowest ever in his career. He started losing Indian national tournaments, a rarity for a veteran player like him. “It was the lowest of lows,” he recalls, “But I believe that you can appreciate the high only if you see the low.”

Exactly a decade later, Sharath will represent the country at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to kickstart on July 23. He firmly believes that this year he will realise his dream of bagging the prestigious medal. “I’m as close as can be this time,” says the Chennai resident.

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This will be Sharath’s fourth trip to the Olympics, considered the holy grail for all sportspersons. “It [the Olympics] is what the whole world is talking about. The stress levels go higher here as there are a lot of expectations from you. This time, it is a lot different because interaction with other sportspersons is going to be minimal [due to COVID-19 protocols].”

Yoga and practice: How table tennis champ Sharath Kamal is chasing his Olympics dream

Lockdown and later

Despite the pandemic squashing his longing to go out and play, Sharath is thankful he at least has a table at home. “Sathiyan (Gnanasekaran) also has a table at home, but has no one to play against. I was lucky to have my younger brother (Rajath Kamal) and father (Srinivasa Rao) around to help me during practice sessions.” With no specific goal in sight, all Sharath could do was keep working on his game. “Mentally, it was hard….because I was practising without knowing exactly for what. All I could tell was to work in a generic manner on my skills.”

That was the time when he also got back to yoga, which he used to practise when he was in school and during his training days. “Flexibility is not my forte as I am used to playing a power game. Yoga helped me work on that,” he says. “It helped me become more aware of my body. Since the last year, I know exactly where I feel stiff and how to work on it. Also, just waking up in the morning and having that time and space for yourself was great.”

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At 38, Sharath isn’t growing any younger but he is still as active as the new players. His family has been wanting him to call it quits for a while now. He recently posted a picture with his mother, captioning it: “Ever since 2007, till date, my mom has been asking me when I’ll stop playing and spend more time with family.” Draw his attention to that, and Sharath breaks into a big smile, “I’ll just win another medal for them, and then they cannot say much. The families of sportspersons sacrifice a lot to help us focus on the sport.”

His sights are set on an Olympic medal but he also has a vision for the future: taking the game he dearly loves to the masses. “It is a sport that most people would have tried at some point of time; there are tables at schools, colleges and offices. Most holiday resorts have TT tables too. But those numbers have not translated into people taking it up professionally. I think it’s about having role models and superstars in the sport. Hopefully, if we get an Olympic medal, things will change.”

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