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Winds of victory in their sail: Meet the Chennai boys who won a bronze medal at the Asian Games

CHENNAI, TAMIL NADU, 11/09/2018 : Sailors Varun Thakkar (right) and K.C.Ganapathi, bronze medallist in 18th Asian games, Jakarta Sailing Championship recently, in Chennai on September 11, 2018. 
Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

CHENNAI, TAMIL NADU, 11/09/2018 : Sailors Varun Thakkar (right) and K.C.Ganapathi, bronze medallist in 18th Asian games, Jakarta Sailing Championship recently, in Chennai on September 11, 2018. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

At the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association, everyone knows their name. As KC Ganapathy (22) and Varun Thakkar (23) stroll into the premises that overlook stacks of hull, bobbing yachts and a serene water body that opens out to an exuberant sea, a bevy of people come forward to congratulate them: starting with the security personnel at the gate, followed by the assistant club coach, yacht master and the boat help.

They are delighted at the boys’ recent feat — they just won bronze medals in the 49er event at the recently concluded Asian Games in Indonesia.

Their yacht is on a container ship, still on its way back from Jakarta. “The bronze felt like gold as we really had to fight for it,” laughs Ganapathy and adds, “We were the youngest on the podium. It’s our first Asian Games victory.” He’s excited that his team mate and he got to stay with all the top athletes, during the games. “We won the test event. We won five out of 15 races.”

Always a passion

Both the boys started sailing when they were six years old. The waters at the port here is like home to them.

“I’ve seen my father sail. I tried my hand at a few other sports like tennis. But this seemed most fun,” says Varun. For Ganapathy, he first experienced the thrills of the sport when his friend’s father took him and a bunch of other children for a day of sailing. “The feeling of taking a boat and going out into sea is just amazing. I stuck to it,” says Ganapathy.


Eventually, it became a task trying to manage school while participating in competitions. They discontinued school. “At that point, Ganapathy was in Class IX in KFI and I was in Class XI in Lady Andal,” says Varun. “It was either attending class or going for the Asian Games. I had a national camp for which I had to be away for five months,” says Ganapathy. Home-schooling was the only option. He switched to studying for his O-level and A-level.

“I have three A-level papers left,” he grins. And Varun is now in Vels University in the city. “I am doing BCom, I think. I’ve barely been to college. And I am supposed to be in the second year but I don’t think they have passed me. I hope this medal helps,” says Varun.

In it together

The two have been friends for long, ever since they started sailing 16 years ago. After training, they would play a game of police-robber or cricket with their friends. “We once got yelled at for playing foil cricket (they used a silver crumpled foil instead of a ball) inside the club here,” says Varun, looking sheepish. For the next few years — 2006 to 2008 — they competed against each other in various competitions.

“When you turn 15, you have to move either to a single or double-handed boat. If you are small, you move to a double handed one and if you are bigger you have a choice. Body weight is vital, as that is what balances the sail,” explains Ganapathy. They started sailing together — first the 29er and since 2014 graduated to the 49er. But they had to put on weight: something they like to call “a work in progress”.

“We were 135 kilograms combined earlier and the recommended weight for this category is 155 and above. We struggled through 2015 and 2016. At the Asain Games now, we weighed 151 kilograms. We had to incorporate a lot of lifting in our workout and lot of carbs in our diet,” says Varun. After the games, Ganapathy has dropped down to 74 kilograms from 78. With constant travelling, it is a task for them. “We are out for nearly 180 days a year, attending camps or competing,” says Varun.

Sailing is a tactical sport, like playing chess on water with athletics bundled in, says Ganapthy. “The race course changes constantly, the direction of wind changes, we are racing against 30-40 boats plus against the elements,” he adds.

They train six days a week for three hours. But unlike other sports, it doesn’t just start and end after a practice session. There’s briefing and debriefing; the boys have to get their boats ready; and they are the mechanics too. So, its essentially an entire day’s work, from 10 am to 5 pm.

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Printable version | May 27, 2022 2:21:10 am | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/meet-the-chennai-boys-who-won-a-bronze-at-the-asian-games/article24934726.ece