INCHEON: One member of this sailing pair is 16 and the other 18. They may just be teenagers, but their achievement is historic. Chennai gave India a first-ever medal in Asian Games sailing — a bronze — in the women’s 29er two person dinghy event on Tuesday. Considering their age, this is stupendous. Interestingly, sailing was a sport that the Sports Ministry wanted to strike off the list before the Games.
Varsha Gautham and crew Aishwarya Nedunchezhiyan sailed to glory behind Thailand’s N Poonpat and N Waiwai (gold, 19.0 net penalty) and Rui Xi Priscilla Low and Rui Qi Cecilia Low of Singapore (silver) at the Wangsan Sailing Marina. Varsha is the youngest medallist for India here at the Asian Games.
Varsha had taken up the sport around 2006-07 as a hobby and started liking it. She sometimes gets homesick while training abroad, but that does not deter her from focussing on the sport. “I love the sport and want to excel. I never gave up. What started as a hobby has turned into a profession,” said Varsha, who had to choose open school to devote more time to her sport. “We went to Spain for the Olympic qualifiers and did not do too well there. We came here to make amends and are got the medal.”
Varsha tries to balance studies and sport. So finding time during the day is not easy for her. “I go to the gym in the morning and practise 4-5 hours a day and in the evening I take tuition. I will be in 12th standard soon as I have to clear just one paper. I am studying ahead of my age and don’t neglect academics. We must thank our federation, K D Singh, Ajay Narang and SDAT, who have been supporting us.”
Aishwarya, Varsha’s crew, is just two years older. She started a little late. “It was just a hobby initially. I used to go on Sundays for an hour or two.” But after Pete Conway of Great Britain joined as Yachting Association of India’s chief national coach, things changed for both teenagers. “He saw our potential and started training us. Only then did I start taking it seriously,” said the MOP Vaishnav College student, who is pursuing sociology honours. She had only recently celebrated a different kind of anniversary — that of the day of initiation into the sport. “I remember the day and we celebrate it. I joined sailing on August 5 in 2006.”
The State Development Authority of Tamil Nadu had been supporting them. “Our training expenses were met through that,” said Varsha.
K D Singh, manager of the team, said the two had performed really well despite impediments. “The wind was low and at times, they had problem guiding the dinghy. Once they even took a wrong turn,” he added.
In the optimist men’s one person dinghy, 13-year-old Chitresh Tatha finished in sixth spot. Nethra Kumanan ended seventh out of eight sailors in the laser radial women’s one person dinghy.