Olympics medal is the next target, says Sharath Kamal

Veteran paddler Sharath Kamal, who claimed two historic bronze medals at 2018 Asian Games, says he has the fire in him to continue till the 2020 Tokyo Olympics or perhaps even further.

Sharath Kamal poses with his two Asian Games medals along with his father Srinivasa Rao and uncle Muralidhara Rao.   -  K. PICHUMANI

As the elder statesman of Indian table tennis, Sharath Kamal has earned the respect and affection of his peers, juniors and media alike with his sincerity and humility, apart from his luminous achievements.

The historic two bronze medals he bagged in men’s team and mixed doubles (with Manika Batra) in the 2018 Asian Games has given the veteran paddler enough reasons to work harder towards his goals.

He attributed his success to the confidence he has gained over the years especially after the 2018 Commonwealth Games (CWG).

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“The main thing is confidence, it’s the kind of shots [I am playing] and the decisions I am making during the match, how I am reading [the game].

“Technically nothing much has changed. The last five months [since 2018 CWG] have been phenomenal,” said Sharath, the top-ranked Indian paddler at World No. 35, at a press conference here on Monday.

The flag-bearer of the sport for more than a decade, the 36-year-old feels he has the fire in him to continue till the 2020 Tokyo Olympics or perhaps further and is also looking at the possibility of qualifying for more than one event at the Tokyo Games.

“[Normally] I will qualify in one event [singles]. Now we can make it in men’s team, mixed doubles and men’s singles. And chances are there in 2020 of a medal,” he said.

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Sharath praised Sathiyan Gnanasekaran for pulling off two wins in the quarterfinal clash against second-seed Japan and Harmeet Desai for doing well in the group match against Chinese Taipei.

“Before the Games, I had said that we had a slim chance [of winning a medal] if the draw was favourable and, on a particular day, if all three playing members gave more than 100%. It all happened at the Games,” he said.

Investing on fitness

The multiple CWG medallist said his focus and perspective has changed since he moved to India three years back after being in Germany.

“[There has been] a lot of changes in three years. I am training at home with my coaches and fitness trainer. There is no pressure every weekend of having to play matches in Europe. I am investing more on fitness and training,” he said.

Sharath pointed out that the exposure and funding the sport received in the 2010 CWG changed the mindset. “We are still reaping the benefits. We can be as good as China. All we need is the infrastructure and an ecosystem,” he said.

Sharath didn’t forget his coaches — father (Srinivasa Rao) and uncle (Muralidhara Rao) — for his growth in his moment of glory. “I started with them, have grown with them and now am scaling new heights with them. All credit to them,” he said.