Nethra Kumaran's journey to Tokyo 2020: From tennis and dancing to sailing

The 23-year-old sailor qualified for the Tokyo Olympics earlier this week at the Asian Olympic qualification championships in Oman.

Nethra Kumaran virtually qualified for Tokyo Olympics in the laser radial class of the Asian Olympic qualification championships- FACEBOOK/ NETHRA KUMARAN

By the time she was 12, Nethra Kumanan had tried her hand at tennis, cycling, basketball and even some Bharatnatyam, but it was in sailing that she found her true calling in life, a choice she justified by becoming the first Indian woman sailor to qualify for the Olympics.

"I tried my hand at tennis, basketball, cycling, art and I also trained in Bharatanatyam also which I had to give up for sailing. My mother put me in a summer camp for one year which is something I've done every year growing up so this is the one that stuck!" the 23-year-old told PTI, from Oman, where she made the cut for Tokyo in the laser radial class at the Asian Olympic Qualifiers.

"I've been working hard for this for the past 18 months and away from home for a long time...and it is good to know that it all paid off and the event is done and we've got what we came for," she added.

The Hungarian touch to her success

Nethra has been training with Hungarian coach Tamas Eszes, a two-time Olympian, and she said they had been focussed on dealing with the stress of racing.

"We've been working (with each other) for more than a year...So we've worked on everything from learning to be a full-time athlete to learning to deal with the stress of racing," Nethra said. 

She further said she was stuck in Spain during the COVID-19 lockdown last year, but used the time to good effect by training with international sailors.

"I got stuck in Spain due to the coronavirus lockdown. I was able to use the time once the lockdown was lifted by training with international athletes in Gran Canaria," she said.

ALSO READ | Financing a costly sport, training headaches all worth it after Oly qualification: sailors' parents

Having qualified for the Olympics, she is aware of the challenges that await her. She said Tokyo would be the first step towards being truly competitive at the 2024 Games in Paris.

"As these are my first Olympic games, I will try to do my best and it's the first step to get ready to be able to compete with the top girls in Paris in 2024," Nethra said.

Nethra said her parents, especially her father, who runs a software company, have been a great support.

"My parents are the reason where I am today... They support me emotionally, and financially. I can't be more grateful. My father has backed me always, which is a great thing to have," she said.

'Hard working and persistent'

Meanwhile, her coach Eszes praised the Nethra and said she is a hard-working and determined.

"Nethra joined our team, Sailing Academy Gran Canaria in 2019, since then we organise her training programmes, and help her to find the best ways to support her performance.

"Definitely she is a hard working, determined, persistent and has great talent," the Hungarian added.

About how the lockdown impacted her training, he said it was actually helpful.

"In March 2020, Nethra arrived at our training base for a one week, shortly after we were not allowed to leave our house till 60 days. We prepared one of the rooms as a gym, so she was able to train physically.

"Also we focused on nutrition and mental strength during this period. After 60 days we went back to the normal training schedule," Eszes recalled.