The 23-year-old Indian, K. Nethra will not only have to compete against over 40 competitors but will also have to contend with nature at the sailing event in the ongoing Tokyo Olympics.
Sailing is one event where mother nature can be your friend as well as a foe.
A favourable wind and water current may make sailing smooth. But adverse weather and wave conditions can make sailing rough.
Be that as it may, Nethra, a second-year mechanical engineering student at the SRM Institute of Science and Technology, is the first Indian woman to qualify for the Olympics in the sailing event.
Nethra is competing in the Laser Radial (single person boat) at the Games.
On Sunday, she hit the Japanese waters making her debut in the Olympic Games.
“At the end of two races held on Sunday, Nethra’s overall position was 27th out of 44 competitors,” her father, V.C. Kumanan told IANS.
As said earlier, many things can change over the next few days as there are several more rounds to go before the medal race will be held.
Nethra landed in Tokyo with a bronze medal in the Hempel World Cup Series in January 2020 in Miami; a silver medal (First Asian) in Mussanah Open Championship April 2021 at Oman; and gold medals in several other international and national events.
Prior to the Tokyo Olympics, Nethra competed in about 75 events of which 15 were national and 60 were international events.
The 60 events were 14 world-level, 36 other international events and 10 Asian-level, including the two Asian Games of 2014 and 2018.
It all started at the age of 10 for Nethra when she and her brother K. Naveen attended a sailing camp in 2011 conducted by the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association.
“They both got hooked on the sport. Further we were explained about the safety precautions by the Association officials. As parents we didn’t have any safety fears,” Kumanan said.
He said his wife K. Sreeja, who was earlier with the city-based Murugappa Group, was also not worried about her kids sailing in the sea.
“Unlike other activities, sailing used to consume the full day as we had to rig the boat, sail out to sea, have a training session of a couple of hours followed by a lunch break and again continue with another session. Come back, unrig the boat, etc and all the efforts and being out in the sun one gets exhausted by end of day.
“Therefore, as the sailing intensity picked up, I had to drop everything else,” Nethra said.
Soon she started competing and winning events
Sailing took precedence over her Bharatanatyam, painting and schooling.
“In 2012, I won the U-17 National Silver and a Gold the following year. This was a big turning point for me as I looked for success after success,” she said.
A bright student, Nethra completed her 10th standard from KFI The School here, opted for open schooling and finished her 12th through the Indira Gandhi National Open School.
“While I did get into Anna University BE (Mech) and finished my first year, my travel was denting my attendance and I had to lose two years of academics,” Nethra said.
She then joined the SRM Institute of Science and Technology, which has been supportive of her sporting activity.
“It is an expensive sport once you go up the ladder. At the club level sailing can be more economical than Tennis and other sports,” Kumanan said.
Kumanan, a cyber security expert was earlier with IDFC Ltd and Cholamandalam before floating his own company Abhayaa Solutions.
“We have been managing her expenses from our funds. It is her luck, I would say, that there will be some bonus income whenever she has an international competition,” Kumanan said.
According to Nethra, the Yachting Association of India had supported her in attending some training and about eight major events like the Japan Worlds and Mussanah Open.
She has been selected under the Indian government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) which is helping her financial needs to some extent.
For the last one year, Nethra has been away from her home at Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain, for training and also competing in sailing events.
From 2019, she was trained by Tamas Eszes, the two time Olympian who runs the European Sailing Academy out of Gran Canaria.
Kumanan said there were several Olympians who train there which resulted in Nethra improving herself.
According to Nethra, sailing is a sport that is dominated by the Europeans and Asian countries like China, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore, and the better coaches are there mostly in Europe.
“Despite having a very long coastline and superb sailing conditions in India, particularly Chennai, we need to base ourselves in Europe if we aspire for big achievements at the international level. Europe has the advantage of good coaches, many sailors and also many events that are of high calibre,” she said.
Kumanan said Nethra is a daring girl with lots of self confidence and has lived abroad for training on her own.
The one advantage for Nethra is that age is on her side and she has a couple of more Olympics and other international events to compete.
“She has been sailing only in the Laser Radial boat. That is also one advantage for her,” Kumanan said.
(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at [email protected])