Sharath, Manika
Sharath, Manika

Sharath, Manika light up TT scene in a challenging year

With three gold medals, including a singles title after 16 years, at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, the 40-year-old Sharath showed that age was just a number.

NEW DELHI: The age-defying Achanta Sharath Kamal sizzled on and off the court while Manika Batra achieved another first for Indian table tennis despite the administrative crisis the sport had to endure over the past 12 months.

With three gold medals, including a singles title after 16 years, at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, the 40-year-old Sharath showed that age was just a number. He plans to hang up his boots only after the Paris Olympics but 2022 also saw him getting into sports administration.

He was elected as the vice-chair of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) athletes’ commission before becoming the first Indian to be elected the joint chair of the players’ body in the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF).

His role in the IOA may be limited but a seat on the executive council of the ITTF gives him authority to effect changes in the way the game is played.

Some said it was probably 10 years too late but Sharath finally got his due from the government when he became the first table tennis player to receive the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award, India’s highest sporting honour.

Even the usually divided selection panel found it hard to disagree and he was the unanimous choice for the sporting honour.

The coveted award came after his sensational effort in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, where he overcame sleepless nights and a battered body to pocket three gold medals -- singles, team and mixed with 24-year-old Sreeja Akula.

Having bagged an unprecedented four medals in the 2018 CWG, expectations were expectedly high from Manika in Birmingham. She could not handle the weight of expectations and returned home empty handed.

However, a performance of a lifetime was to follow in the Asia Cup in Bangkok three months later. The Delhi-based paddler raised her game to stun two top-10 players in a span of three days to secure a bronze, becoming the first Indian to win a medal in the tournament’s rich history.

The start to the year was rather grim as the Delhi High Court suspended the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) after observing a “sorry” state of affairs in the governing body.

There was fear among the players over the suspension impacting their preparation for international events, including the Commonwealth Games scheduled for July-August. However, the court-appointed Committee of Administrators running the TTFI ensured the training of elite athletes remained largely unaffected.

A newly-elected set of office bearers took charge of the federation earlier this month and their first task will be to conduct the national events. While looking after the day-to-day functioning of the federation, the CoA too got locked in a host of legal hurdles.

As many as four players -- Manush Shah, Swastika Ghosh, Archana Kamath and Diya Chitale -- challenged their exclusion from the CWG squad, keeping the CoA more than busy.

Only Chitale emerged as the winner from those battles and was included in the Birmingham-bound women’s squad.

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