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Nethra Kumanan: How an engineer from Chennai created history by qualifying for Tokyo Olympics

Nethra Kumanan qualifies for the Tokyo Olympics and becomes the country's first-ever female sailor to earn a spot at the Olympics.

Nethra Kumanan: How an engineer from Chennai created history by qualifying for Tokyo Olympics

The Bridge Desk

Updated: 20 July 2021 5:56 AM GMT

In a country of a billion, people barely know about the sport of sailing and also the fact, sailors from India take part in international competitions. For those uninitiated, a 22-year-old girl from Chennai was like a fresh breather. The girl, with barely any recognition in the Indian sports fraternity, rose up to the occasion last year by giving India a shot at glory.

Nethra Kumanan after winning medal at World Cup in 2020

It was Nethra Kumanan who became the first Indian woman to win a World Cup medal in the Hempel World Series in Miami, USA. Today, she adds another first to her crown, as she qualifies for the Tokyo Olympics and becomes the country's first-ever Indian female sailor to earn a spot at the Olympics. Historic, to say the least. But Nethra had been eyeing this feat even before she had won the World Cup medal. An entry to the Olympics eluded Nethra for an entire year Asian Sailing Championship last year, which got cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak. Nevertheless, she waited with patience and sticked to her usual perseverance to have a shot at the World's biggest sporting extravaganza.

Kumanan is competing at the Mussanah Open Sailing Championship, an Asian & African Olympic qualifier tournament in the Laser Radial category. After finishing 10 races in the category, Kumanan remains on top. In the last day of the tournament on Thursday, she just has to finish the Medal Race to officially be recognised as qualified for Tokyo Olympics.

Life could have been completely different for Kumanan who studied engineering from the prestigious SRM College in Chennai. She could have settled for an engineering job after her studies like any other regular individual. It was her love for the water that kept her going.

Now 23, Kumanan had chanced upon sailing in a summer camp during her childhood days. And that one encounter was enough for her to cherish the sport for long. Her affinity towards every kind of sports was further a motivation to be a sportsperson. Of all the sports, she chose sailing, because she felt she could rely upon her mental capabilities more in this discipline. Sailing is a sport of endurance and Nethra possesses a plethora of it in her, after all, representing India in such a rare sport is a no-mean feat.

The final race on Thursday is a 20 pointer and Kumanan has already sealed it with one round to go. Laser Radial is a singlehanded boat, which means that it is sailed by only one person. "Yes, Kumanan has qualified for the Tokyo Olympics with one race to go on the final day on Thursday," Asian Sailing Federation President Malav Shroff told PTI. Nethra is also the first Indian, male or female, to qualify directly by booking a quota place in a qualifier.

Nethra, with her parents and brother

The Indian, who trains at the Canary Islands in Spain under the aegis of Hungarian coach Tamas Eszes, also represented the country in the 2014 and the 2018 Asian Games that was held in Jakarta. "Nethra qualified for the Olympics today, with a big lead in points; however the event is going to finish officially tomorrow, after the last race called Medal Race," her Hungarian coach Tamas Eszes said. "...the result of Medal Race will not change the fact that she managed to get one of the (Olympic quota) spot (out of 2)," he added. Eszes is a two-time Olympian.

She had finished fourth in the same event in the last edition of the Asian Games. Hopefully, with Kumanan making her entry into the Olympics, India starts to take the sport with more seriousness. It was Dipa Karmakar, who had steered hope for many Indians to make their way in gymnastics during the Rio Olympics in 2016. A similar feat by Kumanan could remain an inspiration for the coming generation, which would be a major lift of the status of sailing in India.

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