Nethra Kumanan on Wednesday became the first Indian woman sailor to qualify for the Olympics after she was assured of a top-place finish in the laser radial event of the Asian Qualifiers in Oman. The 23-year-old Kumanan has a 21-point advantage over her nearest rival, who also happens to be an Indian -- Ramya Saravanan -- in the Laser Radial Class event with one race to go on Thursday.
Chennai-based Kumanan currently has 18 points while Saravanan has 39 on the penultimate day of competitions in Mussanah Open Championship, which is a joint Asian and African Olympic qualifying event.
In sailing, the athlete who has the least points wins the competition. The final race on Thursday is a 20 pointer and Kumanan has already sealed it with one round to go. Laser Radial is a singlehanded boat, which means that it is sailed by only one person.
"Yes, Kumanan has qualified for the Tokyo Olympics with one race to go on the final day on Thursday," Asian Sailing Federation President Malav Shroff told PTI. "The final race is a 20 pointer but the point gap with her nearest Asian rival, also an Indian, is more than 20," said Shroff who himself represented India in Olympic sailing event in the 2004 Athens Games.
Dutchwoman Emma Charlotte Jeanne Savelon are currently in second spot, above Saravanan, with just a three-point difference with Kumanan but she is nowhere in the scene for Olympics qualification from this event as this is an Asian Qualifier.
"Nethra qualified for the Olympics today, with a big lead in points; however, the event is going to finish officially tomorrow, after the last race called Medal Race," her Hungarian coach Tamas Eszes said. "...the result of Medal Race will not change the fact that she managed to get one of the (Olympic quota) spot (out of 2)," he added. Eszes is a two-time Olympian.
Shroff said the event in Oman is being held under the aegis of Asian Sailing Federation.
Kumanan will be the 10th Indian to qualify for a sailing event in the Olympics, but all the earlier nine have been male athletes.
Nachhatar Singh Johal (2008), Shroff and Sumeet Patel (2004), F Tarapore and Cyrus Cama (1992), Kelly Rao (1988), Dhruv Bhandari (1984), Soli Contractor and A A Basith (1972).
Shroff said Kumanan is the only Indian so far to have booked a direct quota place by topping a qualifier while all the earlier nine Olympians made it by getting quotas that could not be filled up. "All nine of us were nominated. I was in the 21st rank and only 20 were to compete in the Olympics in my event. Somebody dropped out and so I got it because I was first in the waiting list. She is the first Indian, male or female, to qualify directly by booking a quota place in a qualifier."
He also said that two other Indians are still in the fray for Tokyo Olympics qualification on the last day on Thursday.
One of them is Ganapathy Kelapanda Chengappa who is on top of the 49er Class table on the penultimate day.