The achievements of Ambika Radhika, Olympian and former National champion, stand out. And undoubtedly her glittering career remains the best chapter of Kerala table tennis to date.Born into a family of table tennis players, Radhika watched her elder brother, R. Rajesh (a former State champion) play and inspired by the deeds of her late father K.R. Pillai, a former Tamil Nadu and Kerala State champion.Thus breaking into the scene at the age of eight, she won the State sub-junior title at the age of 10 and then continued to hold sway until 2001 when she gave up serious table tennis. By then, she had traversed quite a distance, picking up the top prize in National sub-junior at Muzaffarpur in 1986, the junior crown at Indore in 1989 and the women's title at Pondicherry in 1995.
A year later she enjoyed the proudest moment of her career by representing the country at the Centennial Olympics in 1996 at Atlanta. In between, Radhika had also worn the Indian colours at the World championships thrice (1991, 1993 and 1995) and an equal number of times at the Commonwealth championships in the same years and in the Asian championships in 1990, 1992 and 1994.
In the Commonwealth championships in 1991 (Nairobi), she was part of the silver medal-winning Indian squad in the team event.Also in 1991, she made a clean sweep of the three gold medals up for grabs at the South Asian Federation Games in Colombo, winning the singles, doubles and team events and then again repeated the same feat at the 1993 edition of the Games at Dhaka.Last year, making a comeback she was instrumental in Thiruvananthapuram retaining the women's team title at the State championships in Wayanad.
For the last two years, Radhika, who is employed as Customer Services Executive with the Indian Oil Corporation, has also been into coaching at her own academy attached to the Kadvanathara YMCA in Kochi, where she has now 27 trainees under her tutelage.“Having kept away from the game for some time, I am really thrilled to work with the children at my academy. Prior to that, as I returned home from work, I found myself sapped of all my energy. But now, even after working with my trainees for over two hours after office hours every day, I still feel fresh and full of energy at the end of it all,” the veteran told The Hindu on the sidelines of the State championships, now in progress here.Asked why players of the younger generation had failed to follow in her footsteps and help Kerala make it big at the National scene since her retirement, Radhika was quick to react: “There are many factors. Firstly, it was all because of the approach of the parents of the current generation. They simply make their children dependant on them by accompanying their wards to every single tournament. And while their own work schedule creates hurdles, the children are forced to miss tournaments. You would be surprised to realise that there are around 80 parents who have made it here for the ongoing championships. At my time, only my father accompanied the entire district team and then the State side for the National championships.
“The lack of sufficient infrastructure to train on a regular basis and the necessary support from the State association has been another major hurdle. Anyone would be over-awed with the facilities for badminton at the Regional Sports Centre in Kochi. It motivates the parents to enrol their children for training there. But then, even there the facilities for table tennis are quite dismal and it is almost the same story every where as well.”Radhika, however, has high hopes on two young players — Seraha Jacob and Maria Rony (both from Alappuzha). “For someone of their age, both these players are quite good and highly talented. They are quick off their feet and are intelligent by now to use the table to their advantage. However, they should realise their potential. And for that, I think, they should remain focused on the game, training hard and gaining in experience from every tournament they take part. I hope they just do that and the powers-that-be would provide them with all the help they require to keep them motivated,” she said.
Keywords: Ambika Radhika