Young paddler gears up for Olympic medal

March 25th, 2008 - 2:20 pm ICT by admin  

By Pragya Tiwari
New Delhi, March 25 (IANS) Neha Aggrawal, at 18, has accomplished what many can only dream of. Come August and the Delhi girl will fly to Beijing to compete with the world’s who’s who of table tennis. A few months back, the thought of representing India in Olympics was a flight of fantasy for Neha as she had just graduated from the junior ranks to play at the senior level in international tournaments. The transition from a promising junior to reach the higher echelons of the game has been startling.

Neha outplayed her more famed compatriots Poulomi Ghatak and Mouma Das at the Asian qualifying tournament to book her Beijing ticket.

The youngster now wants to leave no stone unturned to give her best shot at the mega event.

“It feels good to represent India in Olympics. It is the dream of every player to play for the country in Olympics. With the event not very far off, it will be more hard work for me,” an excited Neha told IANS.

The three-time national junior champion shot to the limelight when she won gold in the team event in Canadian Junior Open in 2007.

Neha is however realistic in expectations at the Beijing Games, and says she is not carrying any extra baggage in her mind.

“I am still 18, a junior playing in the senior category. I do not have much exposure in the senior category. I know that I am not as good as the Chinese and European players and I am mot aiming at a gold or silver.

“I am taking it as an opportunity to gain experience. There are still 4-5 months left and I am going to put my 100 percent. But I am not pressured by the fact that I am playing in the Olympics,” she said.

Asked why Indian paddlers who do so well in the junior events fizzle out as they move to the senior level, Neha said that it was just a matter of time before they would match up to their strong Asian opponents.

“In senior national team we have three juniors in the age group of 19-20 years. At the national level among the top ten, 6-7 are juniors. The junior players are doing well and learning fast. But in the international arena, other countries are more mature and experienced. We are trying to cope up to that. We are tenth in Asia, so it is not that bad,” she said.

Neha feels that she needs to work on her physical fitness and forehand before she lands at Beijing and is satisfied with the new Belarusian coach Alekesey Yefremov whose experience she said would prove valuable to the Indian team.

“Alekesey is very experienced and is in India since January. We had one camp with him in February before the world championship and he worked with us on the ball control. He is an asset to the team.

“He is working on our technique. We have been working on shadow practice that has helped me to correct my strokes,” says Neha.

With Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) sending a proposal to the government to send her and Sharath Kamal, the other paddler to qualify for the Olympics, to China for training, Neha says the move will help them prepare better.

“The federation is doing the best it can. There is also going to be a European coach for the girls. They are planning to fund our trip to China in case the government doesn’t accept our proposal. We would go three weeks before the start of the Olympics.

“Going to China for training would of course be fruitful. Though we will not be allowed to play with the national team, their local teams are quite good as well.”

For now, Neha is heading for camp at Patiala where she will grind it out for a month.

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