During the recently concluded Asian Games which was held in Indonesia, the team of Varun Thakkar and KC Ganapathy from Tamil Nadu endured a roller-coaster ride on way to a hard-fought bronze medal in the men’s 49er sailing event. Coming into the Asian Games, the pair were hopeful of a medal and things looked brighter when sailing legend Jonas Warrer from Denmark was named as their coach for the event.
After a good start to the competition, the duo looked on course to even challenge for the gold, but a disqualification during the penultimate race at the event put paid to their hopes of finishing at the top. The pair rallied on the final day of the competition to finish in the top three.
Varun Thakkar, one half of the duo, who is currently doing his B.Com at Vels University in Chennai, sat down with TNM to give us more insight into a sport that has largely remained unknown in the country.
What is the 49er event all about?
49er is a high-performance Olympic class of boat which is 4.99 meters in length. We have a series of 12 to 20 races and the lowest total score wins. (The event has a unique points system where 1 point is awarded for the team that comes first while second and third-placed teams get 2 points and 3 points respectively.)
When did you take up the sport?
I started sailing at the age of 5 for fun on weekends and I started competing at the age of 11.
Did you have a role model?
My coach Jonas Warrer was one of them and to get coached by someone we looked up to, was unbelievable.
How big is the sport in India?
Not very big, it’s a small community and I hope it grows through the years when people understand the sport and overcome the fear of water.
Where do you do your training? How good are the facilities in India?
We train at Chennai harbour, at the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association which is our home club. It doesn’t have the best facilities and we wish the government of Tamil Nadu and the central government help as we have such a big coastline in Chennai.
What was the biggest challenge while taking up this sport?
Lots of challenges are always there but our federation, The Yachting Association of India always backed us and recognised our talents so we are really grateful that they helped us battle most of the challenges involved.
How difficult is it compared to kayaking/canoeing?
It’s a very different sport to compare to kayaking and canoeing. So, I don’t wish to say as I haven’t really seen racing or a competition in either.
Give us more insight about the chemistry between you and your partner.
We used to sail against each other till 2008 and then we started sailing together in 2011. Our chemistry has grown over the years. We are very different people with the same final goal, so working together on it and we both bring in very different aspects to the team and it seems to work very well.
Ganapathy was injured hence a shortened camp. How much of an issue was that in preparation?
We had one month to prepare for the Indian selections where two boats qualify. We would like to thank our former coach Bunny Warren who really made that camp super intense and pushed us really hard to make us really quick in a short span of time.
How much of a role has your new coach played in the success?
A massive role, he spoke to us with his Olympic experience and told us how to keep calm and treat the event just like a normal event.
Looking forward, how do you plan to approach keeping in mind the Olympics is under 2 years away?
Well, we have to qualify from India and that’s going to be a hard task. We need to start planning our camps and competitions and logistics. We also have our gym sessions around it, so it’s going to be a packed schedule from January 2019 till 2020. We hope to keep improving and pushing for a spot at the Olympics.