The legend of Sharath Kamal

The evergreen paddler re-established his credentials as one of the GOATs across Indian sporting ecosystem with four medals (three gold, one silver) at the Commonwealth Games.
Sharath Kamal
Sharath Kamal

The smile on A Sharath Kamal's face is twinkling like a star on a clear summer night. He's describing the 'best two weeks of my career' — the Commonwealth Games at Birmingham — when he made it his personal mission to win all the available jewellery on offer. If Sharath was a separate country, he would have finished 16th on the medals tally, with three gold and one silver.

In an interview with TNIE, the 40-year-old opens up about his longevity, dietary changes and sleep patterns, why he hates being called a 'veteran' and the controversies in the sport. Excerpts:

Are you surprised by your longevity?
I'm. I'm also a little bit fed up with people calling me a veteran (laughs), warhorse... what are other words? True, Am at an age where I can play world veteran championships. But when you look at me on the court, you don't think it's a 40-year-old. I can see that myself. The way I move, the way I get that energy out of myself, connect with the spectators, get the energy from them... Yes, over the period, learned a lot but, at the same time, if I'm able to stay as fit as I'm...

What are some of the things you have picked up in the last few years?
The main change is eating by 7 pm. When my father-in-law comes back from the office at that time, he will have his coffee while I have my dinner. Next morning I'm ready to go. Otherwise, I feel like not getting up. That's because the food hasn't been digested. Of course, I cannot be like (PV) Sindhu and say 'no ice cream' or like Virat Kohli and say 'no cheat meal'. With kids at home, there is always a cheat meal. There are always leftovers and it's not easy to take them for ice cream and say 'you eat, I watch'. Of course, I try and control it. But, at the same time, it's not like a strict no. Because I don't want to try and pick that fight with myself every time. For example, if there are some french fries and I want to eat, I will probably eat like three or four and be content. I don't pick that fight during matches. During matches, if I feel like 'okay, cake', then 'okay, cake'. Then, you will have that psychological thing of 'I'm giving you what you want, you give me what I want now'.

You have also revamped your sleep pattern?
It is one thing that I want to constantly maintain. I don't have to fight for that because my wife understands it now. Earlier, she would keep talking to me at 10.00 PM and I would be half dead. Now she knows. She's like 'after 8.00 PM, I will not talk to this guy. He can do what he wants. If there is anything, I will tell him in the morning'.

Speaking of family, how do you manage between Sharath the athlete, Sharath the father, Sharath the husband and Sharath the son?
It's been tough but the family has made it easy. They have made it easy because they are able to take care of themselves and they don't really trouble me. I can have a clear focus on the sport when I'm playing the sport. When I'm home, I can give that energy on them. I divide the day into two, first half is for myself, second half is for them. Everybody finds their place in this whole thing and we are able to go in harmony. I would now like to take my career two years by two years, 2026 is four years from now. My daughter would be 15, my son would be 7-8. Normally, at the age where I'm, I should be focusing on their future and their career. I'm still focusing on mine which is not right. In the next two years, this is how much I can do with table tennis and this is how much I can do with the family. There's a clear picture. If I say 'this is what I'm going to do for the next four years and you do what you want' to my wife, then it will be like 'please sign here (laughs)'.

What's it like to perform in the sport with the Committee of Administrators (CoA) in the background?
Not just the CoA or the suspension of the federation (TTFI). There have been a lot of controversies going around. It was disturbing me, a lot of external noise. But I understood when I spoke to my (Bundesliga) colleague, Timo Boll, in Dusseldorf. What he does well is it doesn't matter what happens outside. He can shut everything out. If the team needs to win, I need to win my two matches. So, let me just focus on myself. Many times, you derive strength from the team. Sometimes, the team derives strength from you. When you can focus on yourself and do what you are good at, everything else will get nullified, that's exactly what has happened now. People are not talking about any controversies, they are just celebrating the success we have had.

Do you think the government hasn't given you the awards your titles speak for?
See, it's the Khel Ratna alone which is missing. I would probably say 2018 was the year when the sport itself came to the limelight. When you look at the Khel Ratna, it's the best sportsperson across all sport. So, when you look at a Srikant Kidambi, World No 1... I'm World No 30. Then, Neeraj Chopra. Even before the Olympic Games, he had won Commonwealth Games, won the junior Worlds, he was right up there. So how can I compare myself with these guys? That way, it's... of course I applied, you expect but... Khel Ratna is something which is across all sport. Now, I feel I'm in the right space. When I look at Sindhu coming and telling me 'anna what you have done is fantastic' or Gopichand giving me a hug and saying 'man, I don't understand how you have done it'. This shows I have truly earned my spot to be one of the best sportspersons across all sports. I will be applying for the Khel Ratna now. At the same time, if a Srikanth gets it instead of me, I will still be happy. Look at the way they play. Fair enough, everybody is doing their bit.

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