Special Olympics: India wins four table tennis golds

Annu Chennekota, Sabita Yadav, Sandesh Krishna and Akash Tukuram won table tennis golds at the Special Olympics World Games.

The Indian table tennis team which won four gold and a silver medal at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi.

This is Anu Chennekota’s maiden Special Olympics World Games but the 18-year-old from Andhra Pradesh was quite confident that she would land the women’s table tennis singles gold.

“The others are bad, I’m good,” said Anu, who triumphed in 16-21 years division-3 category, at the ADNEC hall in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

Her friend Sabita Yadav also won a singles gold (division 4), while Karnataka’s Sandesh Krishna and Maharashtra’s Akash Tukuram returned with golds in men’s singles in different divisions of the 18-21 years category.

“We have never had four TT golds at the World Games, this is our best result and we have the doubles coming up too,” said Victor Vaz, the National Sports Director of Special Olympics (SO) Bharat. “The best we’ve had before were two golds at the last Games in 2015.”

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Sabita, from Goa, began with badminton but she soon realised that she liked table tennis better.

“My local coach Ritesh introduced me to table tennis and I used to travel nearly an hour every day to Panjim to play,” said Sabita, the daughter of a housemaid, who defeated her team-mate Reshma Shaikh in the fight for gold and silver. She is now part of a team that made history.

A case for inclusivity

Many countries are now making athletes with intellectual disabilities to play with normal, healthy athletes to make it an inclusive world. Nadine Eggermont, the Belgium gymnastics coach and whose trainee Blanche Decorte won the girls vault gold here, explained how it works in her country.

“In Belgium, the normal and intellectually-disabled athletes all come under one national federation. Blanche, for example, trains in a normal group with regular gymnasts,” said Nadine. “That’s inclusion and that unifies them. And Olympian Nina Derwael, our World champion, spoke to us in a video chat and gave us some tips.”

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India, however, appears to be many steps away from such a scene.

“In India, SO Bharat is an Olympic association by itself, we are not under the IOA. Under IOA, the basketball federation is separate, so is the case with all other sports. But we have all sports under one umbrella, so there will be no politics, this is better for administration,” said Victor.

“But now, we are trying to make an MoU with federations, because we want our children to be included. We get support from some federations at the lower level but the national federations don’t help us, it’s all about finances.”

India’s medal tally jumped to 164, including 45 golds and 52 silvers, on the third day of the Special Olympics World Games.