Ever since she made her Olympiad debut, way back in 2004, Dronavalli Harika wanted to be part of an Indian women’s team that climbed the podium. When she had the best chance of realising that dream, she wasn’t going to miss it – even if that meant being taken to the labour room straight from the tournament hall.
It didn’t quite come to that, though there was a time she felt that could well be the case. It turned out to be a false pain.
That pain soon made for joy: India won the bronze medal – for the first time in history – at the Women’s Chess Olympiad at Mamallapuram on Tuesday. True, the team was hoping to take the gold and was well poised for that, until it lost on the final day to the United States.
“Yes, it is disappointing that we could not win the gold after coming so well and performing consistently throughout the tournament, but winning the bronze is also a great achievement, I feel,” Harika told The Hindu. “This is my ninth Olympiad in a row – I don’t think any other Indian woman has played as many -- and an Olympiad team medal is something I desperately wanted all these years.”
She was determined to play the Olympiad despite the late stage of her pregnancy. “I could not have played if it was held outside India,” she said. (It had been allotted to Russia but moved to Chennai after that country invaded Ukraine).
“My doctor, Srilatha Gorthi, gave me the confidence that I could play,” Harika said. “And I am so glad that I played.”
She did her job well too, despite her condition. She remained unbeaten on the second board. “I am happy with the quality of my chess though not with the result,” she said. “The team’s plan was that I would play only when it was most needed in the early part but I had to play consecutively as we were facing strong opposition.”
She is all praise for her teammates – Koneru Humpy, R. Vaishali, Tania Sachdev and Bhakti Kulkarni. “I am really glad that we won a medal, as it would have been disastrous if we didn’t at an Olympiad at home and were the favourite,” she said.
“Besides, it would have been a big disappointment for the organisers and all the fans who came in large numbers to support us. I think the Tamil Nadu government did a great job. It felt nice when the government recognised the teams (India 2 won the bronze in the open section) by announcing a cash prize of Rs. 1 crore each. That isn’t something you normally expect in Indian chess.”