Nethra Kumanan first Indian woman sailor to qualify for the Olympics
Indian sportswomen continue to script a few firsts for the Tokyo Olympics this year. After CA Bhavani Devi created history as the first fencer from the country to qualify for the Olympics, sailor Nethra Kumanan has become the first Indian woman sailor to make the cut for the Olympics after earning a spot in the Laser Radial event for the postponed Tokyo Games.
The 23-year-old from Chennai booked her maiden Olympics ticket by topping the Laser Radial race at the Mussanah Open Championship in Oman, which is an Asian and African qualifying event. Kumanan assured herself of the berth on the penultimate day of the competition on Wednesday after finishing the ninth and tenth rounds first and second, respectively. She had earlier finished atop in rounds three, five and six.
Not only will Kumanan be the first Indian woman sailor at the Olympics but also the first from the country to earn the right to be there by winning a qualifying event. The previous nine Indian sailors—all male—made it to the Olympics by filling in quotas. “This is the first time an Indian has made it to the Olympics by fighting on water,” Captain Jitendra Dixit, the joint secretary general of the Yachting Association of India (YAI) which is the governing body for sailing in India, said. “All the previous instances were through wild cards or quota system nominations.”
An engineering student in Chennai, Kumanan has turned to full-time training in sailing for around five years after first getting an experience of the water sport during a summer camp off the coast in Chennai. “I chanced upon it,” the Tamil Nadu sailor told Olympic Channel last year. “We had a summer camp, and since then I haven't really been off it. It's like no other sport; I tried most sports as a kid. Sailing has been different, more mental than any other that I tried. So this one is what stuck with me, I guess.”
Kumanan has been the national No. 1 in Laser Radial for the last couple of years. The YAI also enrolled her in an Emerging Nations Programme run by World Sailing—the international body for sailing—to especially promote women in the sport. Kumanan got nominated from India for the programme, which, according to the World Sailing website, hosts "clinics worldwide to provide class specific coaching expertise". “She has learnt from some of the best trainers, which has boosted her confidence,” Dixit said.
At the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Kumanan ended fifth in Laser Radial but her breakthrough result came at the Hempel World Cup Series in January last year in Miami, where she won a bronze in the event to become the first Indian woman to win a World Cup medal in sailing.
“She has been our top sailor nationally for the last couple of years. She missed the Asian Games medal narrowly but won the World Cup bronze. She has been performing consistently of late and we were hopeful that she would qualify for Tokyo. It’s great for Indian sailing that she did,” Dixit said.
Kumanan spent a major part of the pandemic-induced lockdown last year in the Spanish island of Gran Canaria, training with her Hungarian coach Tamas Eszes. “Fortunately, she could train for a large part of last year, which has really helped her. The international exposure has proved to be invaluable for her,” Dixit said.
What is Laser Radial?
* Sailing at the Olympics has multiple events like 470, 49er, RS:X, Laser Standard, Laser Radial, among others.
* The Laser Radial is a classification in dinghy sailing, a singlehanded boat sailed by one person. It is a variant of the Laser Standard category for men.
* Laser Radial for women has been part of the Olympics from the 2008 Beijing Games, with the gold medallists from USA, China and the Netherlands.
* According to information on the World Sailing website, the hull weight in Laser Radial is 59kg, the hull length is 4.23m and beam length is 1.37m.