Vishnu Saravanan interview: 'I wanted to achieve what my father couldn't', says Tokyo-bound sailor on dreams, sacrifices and sweat
Vishnu has sailed 655 hours a year since 2018 to prepare himself for the nervy final moments of the thrilling qualifying race, his hardest till date in his own words, to qualify for the Games, a dream his father Saravanan Ramachandern could not fulfil for himself.
Vishnu Saravanan slept for fourteen hours before the final day of the laser standard race where the medal finish would guarantee him an Olympic spot. He needed to bust the stress and tension with a lot of rest, as on water the next day, a stiff battle was to be fought between him and sailors from China, Hong Kong and Thailand. He had taken calculated risks so far in the race due to the shifty and unpredictable wind. The conservative approach in the race meant he was was three points behind the Thai sailor who was holding on to the second position. But he worked hard to go past him and finish second at the end of the fourth day. This was good progress but it would mean nothing if he failed on the last day. On the fifth and decisive day of sailing, all of them started on the same points and there was only a little separating the four sailors.
"The last day was very difficult as we all were on the same point. Hong Kong, Thailand and China and I, we all were on the same points on the last day. Whoever won the medal, clinched the Olympic spot. So it was like a lot of pressure from everywhere," Vishnu told Firstpost.com over the phone from Oman. The fourteen hours of sleep worked wonders for him. He was fresh and handled the nerves better, finishing first in the medal race and second overall to book another spot in sailing for India at the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
Vishnu began preparing for this qualification, three years ago, in 2018. He has sailed 655 hours a year since 2018 to prepare himself for the nervy final moments of the thrilling qualifying race, his hardest till date in his own words, to qualify for the Games, a dream his father Saravanan Ramachandern could not fulfil for himself but had for his son.
A few hours after sealing his Olympic berth, he was sitting with his coach in the bubble where he is staying in Oman unable to process what had just happened.
"Still don't believe. My coach and I are still working our way through. We are just doing the same thing we are doing every day. So it is really a big thing. We will find it out when we reach India," Vishnu said.
Vishnu is being coached by Alexandr Denisiuc for the past five years and shares a father-son like relationship with him. In 2017 Alexandr spotted Vishnu and asked him to come under him for training. Vishnu packed his bags and shifted to Malta where he has been training since then, coming back to India every now and then as he is a Subedar in the Indian Army and cannot be out of the country for too long.
As soon as he qualified, he called up his father, who also served in the army to announce the news. His father, who he had never seen crying before, could not control his emotions. Years of training, sacrifice, sweat and hard work had finally brought results. His father himself was a sailor who dreamt of playing in the Olympics one day but it was not to be and he quit sailing to begin coaching youngsters.
"I always wanted to achieve what my dad could not, so I am following his footsteps and he has given me the pathway to the Olympics. He has been through a lot to make me what I am today," said an emotional Vishnu.
But the wait for this day has been long for Vishnu, who was clueless alongside other sailors of whether the Olympics will even take place or not, around this time last year. The cancellation of events and the uncertainty over the Games had taken the motivation away from him to get on the water with his boat. A week before the Abu Dhabi Qualifiers in March 2020, the city went into a lockdown due to COVID and everyone returned home, leaving all the boats and equipment behind as the qualifying event had been cancelled. He was back in Malta where there was no lockdown but lacked the motivation to sail. Then his coach Alexandr asked him, "how do we keep ourselves motivated?"
"So we started doing different things. We were focussing more on physical preparation because it is very important to have a good physique in this sport because the position we are in literally focuses on every joint. We have to work on that."
Vishnu began to work on his muscles - back, knee and core. There is a video of his on Instagram where he can be seen pulling a hatchback car. He involved himself in these creative workout sessions to stay motivated.
He has been living in Malta for five years now but thanks to the lockdown he could not return home for fourteen months, the longest he has lived without seeing his parents. It was tough but the time away from home taught him a lot.
However, he has a great company in the apartment where he stays in the shape of eight-time Olympian Trevor Millar, who is not just his flatmate but also a mind coach and runs the Sail Coach foundation in Malta where Vishnu trains.
While Alexandr has helped him learn about sailing, Trevor has taught Vishnu several life lessons. "He trains my mind. I live in an apartment with him in Malta. We cook every day. I cook some Indian food sometimes for him. He is not married and his brother lives in Ireland, his native country so we are his family here."
After a year of wait, when the sailors got to know that the qualification dates have been announced, they began the arduous task of moving the boats and other equipment from Abu Dhabi to Oman. The equipment was in Abu Dhabi so the sailors did not know when the event was going to be held next.
"The Oman event was supposed to be held a year ago in Abu Dhabi. But it got cancelled due to COVID. Logistically it was a hard move. All things were sitting in the sun at 50 degrees for one year. We got short notice about the Oman event so we had a few hectic times, but we managed somehow," said Vishnu.
He will be returning to India to celebrate with his family and after a couple of days of rest will be back on the water in Mumbai for training at the Army Yachting Node. He expects to go to Malta then where he will train till the Olympics. But for now, the Tokyo-bound sailor is mostly just looking forward to meeting his parents.
The Indian women's hockey core group had returned to the national camp in Bengaluru on Sunday last to restart the preparations for the Tokyo Olympics after a 10-day break.
Overseas spectators have already been barred from the Games for the first time, and a ruling on Japan-based fans was expected by the end of this month.
The Tokyo Olympics open in under three months and there are still more questions than answers despite the rollout on Wednesday of new rule books to explain how the games will take place in the middle of a surging pandemic in Japan