Four Indian paddlers make it to Rio

India's top paddler Sharath Kamal has booked his spot in the Rio Olympics by finishing first in Draw ‘B’ in the Stage 2 of the Asian qualifying event on Saturday, defeating Noshad Alamiyan of Iran on the way.

Sharath Kamal rallied from behind to defeat Noshad Alamiyan of Iran.   -  Rohit Jain Paras (File Photo)

After Soumyajit Ghosh and Manika Batra, who qualified for the Rio Olympics through the South Asian quota in the Asian Olympic table tennis tournament in Hong Kong on Friday, veterans Sharath Kamal and Mouma joined the young duo on Saturday to make it the biggest singles Indian contingent for the quadrennial extravaganza since the 1992 Olympics.

In the Barcelona Games, a four-member Indian team comprising Kamlesh Mehta, Chetan Baboor, Sujay Ghorpade (played only men's doubles with Kamlesh Mehta in the Games) and Niyati Shah had participated.

The thirty-three-year-old Sharath Kamal — India’s top paddler at 61 — booked his place, overcoming a stiff challenge from Noshad Alamiyan of Iran 4-3 (12-14, 11-6, 3-11, 7-11,11-4, 11-7, 11-6) in the men’s singles final of the Stage 2 event in the Asian Olympic tournament.

Mouma Das, who last played in the 2004 Athens Olympics, defeated Rimma Gufranova of Uzbekistan 4-1 (11-13, 11-9, 13-11, 11-7, 12-10) in the qualifiers (Stage 2) to seal her place for Rio.

“Though I was a bit nervous, I knew I could beat my opponent. After the first game got extended, I was more determined. But she was really good and challenged me at every stage. The win in the third game was crucial and despite losing two match points in the fifth, I was sure I was close to clinching the berth,” the 32-year-old said.

Sharath, who provided a disappointing show in the South Asia Zone, losing to Soumyajit Ghosh and Amalraj (he defeated Harmeet Desai) in the all-Indian league, proved his class despite carrying a back injury during the second stage.

“When I was trailing three games to one, my mind was all about the next match that I would have to play if I lose this one; 'if I lose now, I would have to play against Jiang Tianyi, I’m not fit because of my back injury', I was thinking,” Sharath told the ITTF website.

This will be Sharath’s third Olympic Games after having participated in 2004 (Athens) and 2008 (Beijing). The Chennai-based paddler, however, missed the bus for the London Olympics.

“My back is totally plastered and I’m in pain everywhere. I couldn’t afford to lose and play one more match,” Kamal said. “I seemed to have lost my motivation, but in the fifth game I made a good start and the tide changed, I started to dominate the match.”

This was Sharath's fifth win over the Iranian and the Indian rated the current win as a big one.

“After all, this was Olympic qualification and this would be there at the top of all my wins against him,” he said.