Chasing the sound barrier, Tamil Nadu skaters aim high for India

Young skaters Meenalokshini and Anand Kumar who have been selected for the Argentina games, at a practice session in Chennai.

Young skaters Meenalokshini and Anand Kumar who have been selected for the Argentina games, at a practice session in Chennai. | Photo Credit: RAGU R

On a breezy morning at Hockers Sporting Club in Vadugapatti, a suburb of Tiruchi, young people kitted out in skating gear are trying out their moves, in a rural backdrop punctuated with birdsong.

The mood is one of nervous excitement, as these skaters are set to represent India for the World Skate Games 2022 to be held in Argentina from October 24 to November 4.

The nine skaters from Tiruchi pan different categories of the sport. For instance, three of them — R Jeeva, V Nishanth, SS Sri Iswarya and B Kaviya — are part of the roller hockey team. N Veeramanikandan, G Guru Prasanna and B Poornisha will be going for inline hockey, while N Rinisha and Mridubashini Kedararaman are for roller derby. They will be joining contestants from Chennai, Coimbatore and Madurai, besides others from the rest of the country as part of the Indian contingent

“Our team has been busy practising and competing within Indian arenas through the year,” says Z Fazlul Kareem, the coach and former skater who built the Vadugapatti rink from his savings. “The facilities for skaters are limited in our city. When we were growing up, we had to make do by skating on the Palakkarai bridge in the morning and past midnight to avoid traffic. Having a rink may help a new generation of skaters emerge from our district,” says Kareem.

Five women are participating from Tiruchi, proving that the sport is gaining popularity among girls, says Mridubashini, 23, who will be representing India for the second time. The Agricultural Engineering graduate was part of the national team at the World Roller Games 2019-2020 in Barcelona, Spain (when India was placed fourth). She plays the pivot position in roller derby and has been coached by M Manohar of the Tiruchi Roller Skating Club.

“We have all been working very hard to make it to the top three this time, and I hope our journey will inspire more girls to take up skating,” she says.

Class XII student N Rinisha has been travelling 48 kilometres from Thuraiyur to Tiruchi to follow her passion in skating, first as a speed racer, and now, under coach Kareem’s guidance, in roller hockey. “I have been skating since I was in Class III. I hope we will make a mark in the Argentina event,” she says.

Adds V Nishanth, 25, a transport engineer, who will be part of the Roller Hockey Senior Men (above 19) team, “Skating is a recognised sport nationally and internationally. But public awareness is low in India. I still get asked why I am skating when I have a job as well. Skaters need their family’s financial and moral support to succeed.”

College student Sri Iswarya, 20, found the novelty of skating exciting, and decided to take up roller hockey two years ago. “Competing in a big event will expose us to new players and show us how things are done abroad,” she says.

“I am nervous and excited, because the World Skate Games is a big platform for us to prove our talent,” says G Guru Prasanna, 20, who plays inline hockey.

All teams will be joining preparatory camps in North India this month before they leave for Argentina in October. — Nahla Nainar

Students at a practice session of roller skating hockey Tiruchi’s Hockers Sporting Club.

Students at a practice session of roller skating hockey Tiruchi’s Hockers Sporting Club. | Photo Credit: M Moorthy

Full speed ahead

It sounds like a wave rushing to shore, when a swarm of focussed, rigidly disciplined young skaters rush past on their way to complete a lap around the skating rink at Nehru Indoor Stadium in Chennai. They look almost synchronised as they sweep past, the thunderous sound of their skates fading away with them as they cross, over and over again, each focussed on their turns, balance, and their timings.

As members of different city skating clubs working with different coaches, these children range from toddlers to near-adults — some who have just begun skating, others who have represented the country at world championships.

Of the latter crop is Meenalokshini, a 19-year-old who first represented India at the 2021 Inline Speed Skating Championships in Ibagué, Colombia. “There were 32 countries there. Their technique was different from ours, it was all very interesting to watch,” recalls Meenalokshini, who has been selected from Tamil Nadu to try out for the Indian contingent again, this time for the World Skate Games.

Meenalokshini and her peer, 19-year-old V Anand Kumar, are the only two hopefuls from Chennai this year.

As they explain their hopes and prospects on the sidelines of the rink, they have to take a break every time a new wave of skaters thunders past with precision again and again.

“They have to do 50 laps of the rink, that makes it 10K, for their long-distance practice. I’m a sprinter, so I just do one lap of the 200-metre rink at a time, and focus on my timings,” Meenalokshini says. And what timing is she hoping to achieve? “My target is 18 seconds: the current world record,” she grins.

Cost per kit
A basic pair of roller skates cost ₹1,500, this can go up to ₹10,000
Good quality in line skates, suitable for international competitions, come up to ₹30,000
The kit for Alpine discipline, including roller blades, costs up to ₹1,00,000

On the other hand, Anand prefers not to keep an eye on his timings. “There are two ways to try out for speed skating, individual time trials and group races where you race against other people. I prefer the racing method. Everyone there has won at least two national medals [one of the criteria for being eligible for the tryouts], so even though there are only about 10 or 12 other people to race with, they’re all good,” says the teenager who began skating at the age of six at a park near his KK Nagar home, simply because his older sister was doing so.

“When I started reaching the national-level events, my sister got into the Indian team for the first time. So, that became my next goal.” He has achieved this twice so far: first in the Netherlands 2018, and again in Colombia 2021.

This year, both skaters are raring to go again: complete with diet plans, fitness regimens and more, first under the tutelage of Chennai-based Sathya Speed Skating Academy to which both belong, and later under the guidance of the Indian national coach.

“Three hours of skating each day, including one for warm-up and cool-down. I also do cardio, and now I have stopped eating junk food. I wasn’t too careful about food before, but I have to be now. Mainly since it’s getting harder to skate right now since I’m ageing,” explains the 19-year-old, flashing a cheery smile goodbye before returning to her rounds. — Meghna Majumdar

Alpine dreams in Coimbatore

A regular visit to the VOC Park in Coimbatore was life-changing for S Gowtham, 17, and P Naveena, 14. The skating rink near the park is among the most popular ones in the city. The two of them signed up for classes on a whim and eventually ended up liking the sport so much that they soon joined city-based Kanishka Dharanikumar’s skating academy. Little did they know that they will one day represent the country in the sport at an event their coach describes as “the Olympics of roller-skating”.

Gowtham and Naveena will be participating in the Alpine discipline of the sport at World Skate Games 2022. This discipline entails the usage of two sticks similar to what ice-skiers employ. “It in fact originated from ice-skiing,” explains 28-year-old Kanishka: “It was a way for players to work out during off-season.”

Players hence skate along a terrain that is downhill touching poles pitched at regular intervals with both their sticks as they zoom past. “This is the first time players from Tamil Nadu are representing India in the Alpine discipline,” adds Kanishka, who has represented India three times in speed skating and is the first international skater in Coimbatore.

Alpine, given the terrain players skate on, is one of the most challenging formats of the game. Which is why coaches pick their best skaters to train in it. “I chose Alpine since it is more demanding, and there is a certain bit of risk involved,” explains Gowtham who was into speed skating previously. “I cannot afford to let my mind lose focus even for a moment when I skate,” he says. When he puts on his rollerblades, Gowtham thinks of nothing else but the game.

To qualify for the World Skate Games 2022, Naveena and Gowtham had to hold top positions at the National level, as well as compete against players of similar and some times better mettle at the qualifiers. The teenagers train for two hours in the morning and evening every day, not to mention travel 25 kilometres from Coimbatore to skate on an inclined terrain on and off. “With necessary permissions, we even trained on the new Tiruchi Road and Kavundampalayam flyovers before they were opened to the public,” coach Kanishka points out.

Missed classes, movie nights with friends, Sunday sleep-ins…the players have made a lot of sacrifices to get here. Not to mention the efforts of their parents. “Rollerblades cost ₹60,000 a pair and since they skate downhill, wheels are easily susceptible to wear and tear,” explains Kanishka. “So they have to be changed every two months. They are able to continue doing what they love thanks to their supportive parents.”

Naveena and Gowtham’s focus for now, is on a 10-day training camp that is scheduled to take place in Pune this month. They are understandably anxious about the big day. “The French, Swiss, and Italians are experts in the discipline since they get to train in their natural landscape,” says Kanishka. “They compete at an even playfield. Whereas our players practise on tar roads.”

But they do not seem to mind — all it matters is that they give their best shot. Naveena and Gowtham hold on to their sticks and zoom ahead during a practice run, their bodies bobbing up and down as they propel their way ahead. — Akila Kannadasan

P Naveena and S Gowtham from Coimbatore’s Kanishka Skating Academy, will be representing India in the Alpine discipline at the World Skate Games Argentina 2022.

P Naveena and S Gowtham from Coimbatore’s Kanishka Skating Academy, will be representing India in the Alpine discipline at the World Skate Games Argentina 2022. | Photo Credit: Siva Saravanan S

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Printable version | Sep 2, 2022 5:19:03 am | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/leisure/skating-roller-hockey-derby-inline-skating-rink-world-skate-games-argentina-india-tamil-nadu-tiruchi-chennai-coimbatore-sport-games-training-speed-racing-coaches-interview-metroplus-nahla-nainar-meghn/article65714960.ece