Masterclass at 40 yields rich haul
When Sharath Kamal won his first individual gold in the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, squash player Anahat Singh, India’s youngest participant in the Birmingham edition at just 14, was not even born.
On Monday, the concluding day of the Commonwealth Games, the 40-year-old stood on the podium with an individual gold medal after 16 years. The next edition is four years later (in Victoria state, Australia) by which time he will be 44, but Sharath has said he wants to continue till the Paris Olympics in 2024. His 11-13, 11-7, 11-2, 11-6, 11-8 victory over Liam Pitchford of England earned him the fourth medal — three gold and one silver — in this edition.
It was his fifth Commonwealth Games and he has 13 medals, including seven gold. An awe-inspiring performance from a man who continues to defy age. “My best Commonwealth Games ever. The old adage that age is just a number hasn’t been any truer,” he tweeted.
In what proved to be the final game of the match, Sharath led 6-1 before Pitchford reduced the deficit to 5-6. Sharath absorbed the pressure to make it 10-6 after time out. He thought he had converted his second match point but the umpires awarded the point to Pitchford as the ball was close to Sharath’s body at the time of his retrieve. He converted the next one to complete his victory, gestured towards the stands where the Indian table tennis contingent was straining their vocal chords and then walked up to hug his brother Rajath and Gayatri Varthak, the mental conditioning coach.
It’s been a hectic last few days for Sharath. The schedule has been such that he has been playing three matches a day. In the last 11 days he had only one day’s rest and played 21 matches and 12 in three days. For example, on Sunday, he played the doubles gold-medal match with Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, the singles semis and then the mixed doubles final with Sreeja Akula which earned him his 12th and the 24-year-old her first medal. Sathiyan won bronze earlier on Monday.
“I feel drained out. There is no energy left. I gave my all,” he said. “We had won the World Railways mixed doubles final in 2002 when he was with Railways. And today I was rooting for him from the stands,” women’s team coach Anindita Chakrabarty said from Birmingham. “He is the flagbearer of Indian table tennis for a long time. We all are now heading for the closing ceremony where he will be one of the flag-bearers (along with boxing champion Nikhat Zareen),” she added.
Sharath’s show will put the failure of the women’s team on the back-burner, at least for the time being. Star paddler Manika Batra failed to repeat her Gold Coast performance when she won four medals. The build-up was riddled with selection controversies where some players had also moved court. In the end though Sharath made India’s day.