Updated: May 14, 2021 8:29:25 am
It’s been a heartbreaking week for the world of sport. After two Olympic gold medal winning hockey legends, Covid-19 took away Indian table tennis’s original poster boy — Venugopal Chandrasekar. Chandra wasn’t just a daredevil paddler with jaw-dropping table craft. He was also a strong-willed champion who didn’t let a four-month coma deflate his enthusiasm for life, a fighter who won a landmark medico-legal case and a dedicated coach with an obsession to keep India’s table tennis assembly line running.
Chandra’s peak as a player was in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the pre-television era when even non-cricket stadiums would have “houseful” signs on match days. Table tennis stars were household names and impressionable, sports-crazy school kids hunted for their posters to decorate their rooms. Old-timers also talk about tournaments where the police had to lathi-charge unruly crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of Chandra’s mesmerising forehand, the graceful footwork, the artistry in his strokes, and the nonchalant trickery that made him the most watchable player of that generation. However, that magical spell didn’t last long. At just 25, a botched knee surgery almost felled the national hero. He recovered but his balance and eyesight had deteriorated. That didn’t see him part ways with table tennis. As a coach, he groomed top national players like S Raman and G Sathiyan.
The work that Chandra and his contemporaries, like Kamlesh Mehta, put in has seen a new wave in Indian table tennis. Sathiyan was a part of the Indian team that won a historic bronze at the Asian Games 2018. Indian paddlers can now dream of being on a podium at tournaments that have players from China, Korea and Japan. Chandra lived his dream through his students. He gave back to the sport more than what he got from it.
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