Nethra Kumanan is a sailor with an artistic flair. The 22-year-old engineering student from Chennai, who became the first Indian woman sailor to earn a berth for the Olympics on Wednesday, is a trained dancer, singer, and proficient painter as well.
The second-year BE mechanical engineering student etched her name in the history books by earning the elusive ticket thanks to her exploits in the Laser Radial race at the Mussanah Open Championship in Oman, an Asian and African qualifier. On Thursday, Nethra finished second behind Emma Charlotte Jeanne Savelon of the Netherlands. She had all but sealed the Olympic spot a day earlier because of points earned in previous rounds and the medal was an added bonus.
Although Nethra was disappointed in missing out on the gold medal, she was relieved. “I could have done better and chased (Emma) her but I lost out due to some errors that I could not rectify. I am really happy about earning an Olympic berth. I hope this inspires other young women to take up sailing,” Nethra told The Indian Express.
It was a memorable competition for the whole Indian sailing contingent as three others qualified for the Tokyo Olympics: Vishnu Saravanan (Laser Standard Class) and the pair of Ganapathy Chengappa and Varun Thakkar (49er Class).
Nethra, who has been training in Spain for the last year and a half, developed an interest in the sport during a summer camp in school. The soft-spoken athlete had tried her hand at various sports like tennis, basketball and cycling before finding her true love, sailing. To take up sailing seriously she had to give up on Bharatanatyam classes.
“I still think Bharatanatyam has taught me a lot. Discipline, hard work and dedication are things I have learnt from the dance form and something that helps me even today,” said Nethra who trained for six years under renowned guru Alarmel Valli.
During her training stints, Nethra is often shuttling from Chennai to Spain while managing her college lessons online. “She trains in Europe for a month and comes back home to stay a couple of months before heading back,” said father VC Kumanan, who runs a software company.
“It’s a matter of great joy that not only her but the others from the Indian team have also qualified. Even though we knew Nethra would pull it off, I was still tense till the last moment. As soon as she qualified I was relieved and glad,” Nethra’s father added.
Last year because of COVID-related travel restrictions, Nethra was stuck in Spain. In hindsight, the youngster feels it was a good learning experience but back then she grew terribly homesick.
“It was one of the toughest periods for me. I was missing my home and friends a lot. So this time when we went to Oman my family came along,” she said.
Nethra has been around the sailing circuit. She had taken part in the 2014 Incheon and 2018 Jakarta Asian Games but she came into the limelight after winning a bronze at the Hempel World Cup Series, Miami, in January last year. It was a feather in her cap as she was the first Indian woman to win a World Cup medal in sailing.
Nethra credits her success solely to her father VC Kumanan who has backed her to the hilt even during the most testing times.
“If I am anything today it is due to my father. He has always backed me and is still funding my training. I usually get a little stressed out before competitions but since my parents were here (in Oman) I did not have to deal with that this time. I think I performed better because they were here,” said Nethra.