'Surprised' to be India's flagbearer at Paris Olympics: Sharath Kamal

"There is also the doubles rubber in the team in which Indian is very strong. Hopefully, in the team events... we are keeping our fingers crossed," Kamal said.
Veteran table tennis player A Sharath Kamal, preparing to participate in his fifth Olympics in Paris.
Veteran table tennis player A Sharath Kamal, preparing to participate in his fifth Olympics in Paris.

CHENNAI: Veteran table tennis player A Sharath Kamal, preparing to participate in his fifth Olympics in Paris, said he was "pretty surprised" at being named India's flagbearer at the Games ahead of the likes of Neeraj Chopra. The Indian Olympic Association's (IOA) decision to honor the Commonwealth and Asian Games medalist in March 2023 had met with criticism from the Tamil Nadu Athletics Association.

"Yes, I was pretty much surprised at first. When I was the flagbearer at the Commonwealth Games, there was immense joy and so much of pride," the 41-year-old said during an online media interaction. "When it was announced first, it was a bit hard to believe because there are people like Neeraj Chopra who have won medals at the Olympics or who are expected to win... Beyond all of them, they thought about me. I do understand the thing behind that because of the timing of events for athletes. For me personally, getting there as a five-time Olympian, it really recognises the toil I have done over the years not just for myself but also for the table tennis fraternity," he added.

Ahead of the Olympics where both men's and women's teams will represent the sport for the first time, Kamal voiced his hope about this being India's golden opportunity to bag the medal in the event. "This is the first time we qualified for team events both men and women, and it's the right kind of boost for us. There is also the doubles rubber in the team in which Indian is very strong. Hopefully, in the team events... we are keeping our fingers crossed," Kamal said.

His preparation in the lead-up to Paris Olympics started in April. Six weeks of training was followed by four weeks of preparation in Europe. There will be two weeks of national training camp in India before he leaves for two weeks of tournaments in Africa and Asia. "This is the first time I had so much time to focus and five months to prepare.

Earlier, your primary goal is to qualify for the Olympics, let alone aim to win a medal. Now I am here in Germany, and primary focus again is a lot on skills. I am playing with different players, Europeans. There will be a lot of team training in the next weeks, we will be working a lot on team building. I hope I am at my best at the Paris Olympics," he added.

Harmeet Desai and Manav Thakkar will join Kamal in the men's team with G. Sathiyan as a reserve player. In the women's event, Manika Batra, Sreeja Akula and Archana Kamath will compete for the medal. With most of the players appearing in their first-ever Olympics, Kamal spoke about how vital the team bonding is going to be given the amount of pressure these paddlers have to shoulder.

"The thing I keep telling the youngsters is the the pressure will be there. Pressure is inevitable because all of us are starting very hard. At the Olympics, you have got one shot at the best sporting event you can be part of. For us to be part of that, adds to the pressure, but the one who can enjoy that pressure and deliver under it is going to be the champion. We have to accept that pressure and expectations will be there," the veteran mentioned in the interaction facilitated by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) in association with the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and the Table Tennis Federation of India. 

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