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Table Tennis: West Bengal has been consistently producing Olympian paddlers since 2000

Since the start of this century, West Bengal has maintained a remarkable streak and has sent at least one paddler from the state to the Olympics, except once in 2008.

Table Tennis: West Bengal has been consistently producing Olympian paddlers since 2000

Poulomi Ghatak and Mouma Das


Sohinee Basu

Updated: 20 July 2021 4:29 AM GMT

In West Bengal, where time languishes and flows, table tennis has gripped the attention of the entire state and has led to the production of Olympian paddlers. In fact, West Bengal has quite a few champion paddlers to boast of and who in turn, have inspired a generation of other Bengal players to lift the table tennis bat. Since the turn-of-the-century, West Bengal has sent at least one player from the state to compete in table tennis at the Olympics, except only once in 2008 Beijing Olympics. From Poulomi Ghatak to Mouma Das or even Soumyajit Ghosh, table tennis has been Bengal's sure shot ticket to the quadrennial Games.

This sports-crazy state spends its dawns playing football and cricket on the lush green grass of Maidan - come winter, come rain and brings in dusk over steaming cups of chai served in earthen cups - engaging in heated 'addas' over India's sporting performances while evening brings with it intense carrom matches or table tennis face-offs at the local clubs. Sports is an inseparable part of the people of Bengal and table tennis is a sport they have learnt to love dearly. This love has helped them plant table tennis on the Olympic map as the state continues to produce seasoned paddlers consistently.

What's the reason behind West Bengal's consistency in producing Olympian paddlers?

The eastern state of West Bengal has enjoyed a steady popularity in table tennis. Being an indoor sport, table tennis found its way to the schools and local clubs and onward into the colleges and universities. Given its vast popularity, more bats began to be picked up and especially, the younger generation took an active interest in the sport. The feasibility of table tennis was also an added advantage – a sport which doesn't require a massive expanse of field like football, cricket or demand the vastness of a badminton or tennis court, table tennis soon found favour among the people of West Bengal due to its compact nature. In fact, West Bengal boasts of the oldest table tennis association in the country - the Bengal Table Tennis Association that exists since 1934, even 4 years prior to the establishment of TTFI, signifying the state's passion for the sport.

Apart from Kolkata, Siliguri has also become a fertile hub for breeding excellent paddlers. A number of good coaches as well as good training schools and clubs are also now available which facilitate those genuinely interested in pursuing the sport. Schools and colleges have table tennis competitions as a part of their fests and also conduct separate inter-college championships. All of these factors have played a key role in carving out so many talented paddlers from this State and till date, the consistency it has maintained is remarkable.

Let's look at the Olympians from West Bengal who represented the country in table tennis at the Summer Olympics since the beginning of this century:

#1 Poulomi Ghatak - 2000 Sydney Olympics

Poulomi Ghatak

Hailing from Kolkata, Poulomi Ghatak is one of the most celebrated names in Indian table tennis. Currently a veteran of the sport, Ghatak is a 7-time National Champion and boasts of a silver medal from the 2010 Commonwealth Games in the women's team event. An erstwhile student of University of Calcutta, Ghatak rose to prominence when she qualified for her maiden Olympics in 2000. All of 16 then, Ghatak took part in the Sydney Olympics and set the ball rolling for many more such Bengalis to follow suit at the quadrennial Games. Married to fellow paddler and Chief National Coach of India, Soumyadeep Roy, Poulomi Ghatak dedicates her time in helping the table tennis fraternity of West Bengal to grow and prosper.

#2 Mouma Das - 2004 Athens Olympics, 2016 Rio Olympics

Mouma Das

Following Poulami Ghatak, Kolkata produced yet another gem paddler in the form of Mouma Das. The Arjuna awardee has a lot of feathers in her cap and is the only Bengali girl to have represented the country twice in table tennis. To Das' credit are five Commonwealth Games medals - one at least of every hue, which she has collected between 2006-2018. The first outing for Mouma Das at the Olympic Games arrived in 2004 when she qualified for the women's singles event in Athens. In a surprising streak of consistency in her career, Das made a reappearance at the Summer Olympics after a hiatus of 12 years. Qualifying for Rio Olympics, Mouma Das' hopes of progressing deep were swiftly dashed as Das lost in the first round itself, losing to Romania's Daniela Dodean in the women's singles.

#3 Ankita Das - 2012 London Olympics

Hailing from the assumed 'Table Tennis Capital of the State - Siliguri', Ankita Das became the youngest player at the Olympics when she participated in 2012. A quarter-finalist at the 2011 World Junior Championships, Das was also bestowed with the honour of the 'Fair Play Award' at the same event. Ankita Das, became the third female Bengali paddler since the turn-of-the-century to participate in the quadrennial Games when she qualified for the women's singles event at the 2012 London Olympics.

#4 Soumyajit Ghosh - 2012 London Olympics and 2016 Rio Olympics

Soumyajit Ghosh

Yet another product of Siliguri, Soumyajit Ghosh's claim-to-fame moment arrived when he defeated table tennis veteran and soon-to-be 4-time Olympian, Achanta Sharath Kamal at the National Table Tennis Championships and became the youngest winner at 19. Throughout his career, Ghosh has been known to make quiet exploits far and wide. Ghosh's first outing at the Games happened at the 2012 London Olympics where he participated in the men's singles event. Maintaining his form, Ghosh went on to qualify a second time, becoming the only Bengali man to represent the country twice in table tennis at the Olympics. At the 2016 Rio Games, Ghosh could not go any further than the first round and succumbed to Thailand's Padasak Tanviriyavechakul.

#5 Sutirtha Mukherjee - 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Sutirtha Mukherjee

All eyes will be on the 25-year-old Sutirtha Mukherjee as she is on the brink of making her Olympic debut at Tokyo. Mukherjee, along with Manika Batra, Achanta Sharath Kamal and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. Battling past fitness issues and making significant leaps in her form and the rankings, Sutirtha Mukherjee is ready to take on the world. A prominent member of the gold medal winning women's team at the Commonwealth Games. Mukherjee will become the fifth Bengali and the fourth Bengali girl to make it to the showpiece event.

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