It's raining medals at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. One of the winners is Mumbai-based sailor Vishnu Saravanan, who fetched a Bronze medal in men's ICLA 7 also known as Laser Standard at the NBX Sailing Centre in Ningbo in China. Apart from Vishnu, Neha Thakur won a silver in girls' dinghy ILCA4, and Eabad Ali bagged a bronze medal in men's windsurfer RS: X.
During his visit to The Free Press Journal office, Vishnu spoke about his performance at the Asian Games that won him the bronze medal, representing India on the global platform, challenges at sea, and more.
Vishnu Saravanan at the Asian Games 2023 |
Were you confident of winning at the Asian Games?
Because of my own mistakes, I couldn't finish the selection round for the Asian Games in 2018. I felt really bad and cried at that time. That became my motivation to participate in the Olympics and Asian Games. I went to Europe to train, which was sponsored solely by my father. Later, seeing my potential, the Indian Army, Ministry of Sports, and Sailing Federation of India extended their support. My goal after winning the World Championship was to get India's spot in sailing at the Olympics. And the qualifying race in Oman that year was the most difficult race I have ever participated in. I stood first and qualified for the Olympics. After that, my target was the Asian Games this year. I was back in the game. I was hoping for Gold but the last (medal) race didn't happen due to no winds and I got Bronze. I didn't check the result until the medal race because I was just enjoying being at sea sailing in China. Just being in the moment was the most important thing for me.
Did you study your competitors' strengths and weaknesses before you went to sail against them?
My ideal is Kobe Bryant. He said, 'You need to learn your opponents' weaknesses, and strengths, and need to know when to use it and when not'. Of course, when you are back on the land, you forget everything and are not competitive. Once I am at sea, I am hungry for the win and I have to go for the kill. I know their weaknesses and strengths that I put to use to my own advantage. But sometimes, that also works against you. During the race, I got two penalties for some tactical mistakes, but I made up. For a good sailor, you have to sail in all conditions. You can't withdraw.
After the Asian Games, what are your goals and aspirations in the sport of sailing?
Yes, I want to win the Olympic medal because no Indian sailor has won that before. Right now I have an Asian championship in Thailand in December this year. I have to do two championships and finish in the top two to qualify for the Olympics. Medal is just part of the process. It's a gift you get after following the process very diligently. So, the process never stops. I enjoy the process because the medal will go on the wall and sit there. But the process will always remain in my heart. I enjoy the routine of getting up early, working out, going to sea for training and preparing my tactics for the championship.
Would you also transgress into the ocean sailing arena like many other Asian Games medalists have done in the past?
Maybe but not anytime soon. Ocean sailing is not my cup of tea. I want to win the Olympics first and then if one day I decide to try ocean sailing I may do. But now, I don't have any intention of spending so much time at sea. I received an offer to do that but I can't do that. It requires a lot of mental strength. I know how difficult it is and sailing changes your perspective toward life completely. You respect life more.
What aspects of the sport do you find most challenging, and how do you overcome these challenges?
I find focus is the most difficult thing in sailing. You can't really keep your focus on one thing for a really long time but in sailing, I am focusing on three things together – winds, boat speed, and the technical part of sailing. As a sailor, I have to anticipate and think ahead. I have to have an eagle eye view. It puts a lot of stress on your mind and body. I can feel my feet and legs burning and my mind keeps telling me to stop but I have to fight that all. Then there's the opponent, who you see is getting more wind than you so maybe you change your route. There's a constant fight to change the tactics and protect yourself. Sailing is like chess on water because you are always playing from the other's side as well.
Has sailing changed you?
Yes, a lot! In a very positive way. It teaches you what life really means and how you can't control everything. You only have to worry about things that you can control and the storms will get over and at some point, there will be sunshine. You have to look for the brighter side and find calm.
Was becoming a sailor your first choice?
In a way no. But I grew up watching my father windsurfing and at school, I played so many sports. I excelled in all of them including Javelin. I was one year behind Neeraj Chopra and went to nationals as well. I was very close to choosing football but my father told me that it is a team sport and it is difficult. At that time, football wasn't so popular and supported in India and it's still difficult to excel in that game. So sailing took priority. In every sport I have touched, I did well, even though I gave little time to them. But sailing comes naturally to me and I wanted to make sailing more popular than cricket. That was the reason that despite doing very well in cricket I never played that again. I want to prove that sailing is also on the map of sports in India.
Sailing is an expensive sport. How do you think this can become a mainstream activity?
To start with, all the people in the game have to win big championships and bring medals to India so that people know about sailing. The government needs to extend support with basic equipment and coaching. I feel the state government needs to spend some money on sailing equipment for local schools. Take students at sea and introduce the sport. If we didn't have football, basketball, and other games in school, no one would have known and learned them in the first place. Sailing should be part of school education. The sport needs to be in children's and parents' knowledge. It's also a great way to teach children life values.