Special Olympics 2019: Indian paddlers make history in table tennis with four gold and one silver medal

Abu Dhabi: After waiting anxiously for the results to appear on the big screen, the Indian flag finally soared high in the noisy hall at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) as three paddlers won medals in the women’s singles section on Sunday.

After registering three wins out of three, Anu Chennakota and Sabita Yadav bagged gold, while Reshma Shaikh claimed silver following a narrow loss to Sabita in the division final.

 Special Olympics 2019: Indian paddlers make history in table tennis with four gold and one silver medal

Indian table tennis contingent won five out of five medals at Special Olympic World Games in Abu Dhabi. Shivam Damohe/Firstpost

Although this was Anu’s first appearance at the Special Olympics, she had expected to win a medal in Abu Dhabi. “I knew I’d take something home,” she laughed. “I’m better than most of them,” said the girl from Andhra Pradesh, who got the better of her opponents with a barrage of her favourite forehand shots.

Meanwhile Sabita, who chose table tennis over badminton in 2015, defeated close friend Reshma in the final. “I expected a medal because I had practiced a lot to be capable of competing at such a level. Our local coach helped me overcome my fears. I didn’t even know how to hold the racquet. Before the Games, he insisted me to bring home a gold medal,” said the gold medallist.

The journey to the gold medal hasn’t been an easy one for the 18-year-old. Back in Goa, she would travel nearly for two hours on the bus every day to reach the practice hall in Panjim, train for hours and come back home to look after her family. The everyday hustle was a hassle due to financial constraints. “My mother is a housemaid. So, it’s a difficult task for her to take care of me and my two siblings,” said Sabita, who likes to play a defensive game.

Coach Sheetal Negi too was certain about positive results after being with the team for almost 18 months. “I had the confidence in them as I have seen them undergo five exhausting preparatory camps. That is enough for me to know how my players will perform,” she explained.

The Indian contingent underwent four preparatory camps in Gurgaon, Jodhpur, Haryana and Mumbai before competing in Abu Dhabi. These athletes trained four hours on a daily basis to get a grip of their game.

While training, Sheetal noticed that these athletes are open to learning and would follow a pattern diligently. She found it easier to coach athletes with intellectual disabilities rather than healthy athletes as they are more assertive. “When I saw the divisions, I thought it’d be difficult for her since the first match was against a Chinese Taipei player. The Chinese are good at this sport. But when I saw her game, I realised that Sabita’s opponent is an attacker and Sabita is strong in defence,” said Sheetal, who works at the Government Rehabilitation Institute for intellectual disabilities as a sports coach in Chandigarh.

The men’s team wasn’t too far away, clinching two gold medals on Saturday. Akash Tukaram and Sandesh Krishna, who represented age group 18-21, topped their respective divisions to add to India’s tally. Akash defeated opponents from Malta and Libya before edging past a paddler from China in the final. Meanwhile, Tukaram cruised past Switerzland, Egypt and Siberia to win gold in the 3rd division.

“This is the best result for us so far,” said Victor Vaz, the national director of Special Olympics Bharat. “Last time, we had only two people representing the country, they did well, won two golds at the last Games in 2015 in LA,” he added.

India now has a total of 164 medals, with 45 gold, 52 silver and 67 bronze medals at the World Games.

The writer is in Abu Dhabi on an invitation from Special Olympics World Games.


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Updated Date: Mar 18, 2019 01:38:52 IST