CHENNAI: For Archana Girish Kamath, the journey to the Youth Olympic Games was as tense as her quarterfinal clash in Buenos Aires. After failing to make the grade at the Tunisia and Bangkok qualifying events, the 18-year-old secured her entry in the final qualif i c ation tour nament in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. She was in danger of missing out on that particular meet entirely as clearance from Sports Authority of India for the paddler and then- India coach Massimo Costantini had arrived late. The duo had made it to Oceania just in time.
Prior to the start of the Youth Olympic Games, there was a lot of focus on the prodigies who had already won laurels for the country in senior multi-nation competitions — Manu Bhaker, Lakshya Sen and even Manav Thakkar. Nobody had expected anything special from Archana. But on Wednesday, she overcame Azerbaijan’s Nign Jing 13-11, 8-11, 6-11, 11-3, 6-11, 12-10, 11-7 to enter the semifinals and social media was awash with posts heralding India’s new table tennis star. She could not get past the second seed from China, Yingsha Sun, losing 1-4.
There was still a chance to claim bronze in Thursday’s early morning match against Romania’s Andreea Dragoman. The Bengaluru resident won the first game 11-8 and was leading 9-5. But unforced errors crept in and she succumbed 1-4 to finish fourth. It was the best finish by an India paddler in the history of Youth Olympics. “Initially, I did not have much expectations. But after my quarterfinal victory, I started hoping for a medal.
After losing the bronze-medal match, I was sad and happy at the same time. Sad because I was in control of the match in the beginning and if I had kept my cool, India would have another medal. I called my parents and my coaches back home. They reminded me about the effort that I put in and that helped. Overall, I think I surpassed a lot of people’s expectations and I’m happy about that,” the junior World No 9 told Express from the Games village. Coach Soumyadeep Roy feels Archana’s achievement as well as Manav’s (lost 1-4 in the Round of 16 to senior World No 8 Japanese Tomokazu Harmoto) is massive, considering the level of players involved this year.
“Most countries have Chinese players. Also, there are quite a few members of the Japan and China senior team playing here. The level is really high and both players have made the country proud,” he said.
“Archana’s performance was refreshing to see. She played without any fear and was so close to getting a medal. Mentally, she needs to get stronger, especially during pressure situations. But the future is bright.” Archana and Manav will start their mixed campaign from Friday. India have been clubbed with France and Azerbaijan.