8th April, 2021, was a historic day for Indian sports as 23 year old Indian Sailor Nethra Kumanan, became the first Indian woman sailor ever to qualify for the Olympics, sealing her spot for Tokyo by finishing second in the women's Laser Radial Event at the Mussanah Open Championship 2021, in Oman, which was an Asian qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics. 

On Thursday evening, the 15th of April, a press conference was facilitated for the prodigiously talented Nethra, by GoSports Foundation. The occasion saw more than 20 eminent journalists come together to speak to Nethra and her support team about her journey in the sport, the challenges she’s faced and so much more, making it a truly proud moment for her and her family. 

Nethra has worked incredibly hard over the years, and achieving Olympic qualification at such a young age has put India on the world map in the sport of sailing! Speaking on her superb accomplishment, Nethra said, “It obviously feels amazing to achieve Olympic qualification, which has been a dream of mine for many years. It feels incredible that all my hard work has paid off and this is really just the start for me. This event has been extremely good for Indian Sailing, apart from me there are three others who have qualified as well. I’m so excited to go to Tokyo, have fun, and do the absolute best that I can. It’s a huge step for me and I can’t wait to represent India at the biggest stage of them all.” 

Hailing from Chennai, Nethra’s journey has been quite the roller coaster and not something you witness everyday. However, Nethra formed a passionate bond with the sport at a young age, when her parents happened to enroll her in a summer camp for sailing. She actually went to a lot of summer camps and was exposed to a range of activities, but she found her true calling in sailing as she was drawn to its technical nature and adored being on the water, enjoying the freedom that came with it. With the immense support of her family, she decided to take the leap and pursue a career in sailing. Nethra’s Olympic qualification is a very proud moment for her family as well, and speaking at the virtual press meet, her father, Kumanan VC, said, “Nethra participated in so many activities when she was young, like football, tennis, dancing etc, but when she started sailing more than 10 years ago, she enjoyed it like nothing else and found her true passion. I am so proud of how hard she’s worked to reach the Olympics. Every athlete dreams of winning an Olympic medal and Nethra is working towards that. This is an amazing feat and I am so happy for her and our family.”

At the age of 15, Nethra began competing at the top level, and she has steadily progressed up the ladder over time. She represented India at both the 2014 (at the age of just 17) and 2018 Asian Games, finishing fourth in the latter event, and became a history maker in January 2020, when she became the first Indian woman to win a medal in the sport after clinching the bronze medal at the Hempel World Cup Series in Miami. After missing out on qualification for the Rio Olympics, Nethra was more determined than ever to qualify for Tokyo. From 2020 onwards, she has been living in the remote island of Gran Canaria in Spain, training under the tutelage of her coach, Tamas Eszes, at the Sailing Academy Gran Canaria, who had this to say when asked about Nethra’s progress and her future, “Nethra is just at the beginning of her journey. She has progressed very well and I am really happy that she has qualified for the Olympics as she is one of our youngest athletes at 23 years old. Going to Tokyo is only our first start. The next Olympics is only 3 years away so we have already started our campaign for the 2024 Games. Qualifying for Tokyo is a big step for Nethra and it is the first of many big achievements for her.” Whilst striving to be the best sailor she can be in Gran Canaria, Nethra has been pursuing her engineering degree at the same time as well, showing immense dedication to excel at both, her sport and her academics.

Nethra’s story really is an anomaly for a country of one billion people, as there are not many people in India who pursue a career in the sport of sailing. Having the right support system has helped Nethra grow into the talent she is today as well. Her biggest support system has been her parents and brother, who have been her pillars every step of the way. When she was young she had the opportunity to attend the Emerging Nations Programme in 2017 and 2018 organised by World Sailing, which helped her gather some extremely useful international experience. The Tamil Nadu Sailing Association (TNSA), The Sports Authority of India (SAI) and The Yachting Association of India (YAI) have all encouraged her and believed in her right since her early days in the sport. Captain Jitendra Dixit, Joint Secretary General of the YAI, beamed with pride while speaking to the press and shed some light on what Nethra’s Olympic qualification means for sailing in India. “For more than a decade now, India has not had a foothold in the sport of sailing. Now, history has been made and we have four sailors who have qualified for the Olympics, making them stars in Indian sport. Once such an accomplishment happens, recognition and funding falls into place. I am sure the youth in India will now be motivated to take up the sport and more and more people will participate in sailing in the future”, said Captain Jitendra Dixit during the press conference. 

She was identified for support by GoSports Foundation under the Stars of Tomorrow Programme in December 2018, and through the programme she has received support for her nutrition, mental conditioning, coaching expenses and sailing equipment, with the aim being to create a high performance team around her. Dream Sports Foundation is the programme partner for the Stars of Tomorrow Programme, and they have played a massive role in supporting young talented athletes in their journeys. Harsh Jain, CEO & Co-Founder of Dream 11 & Dream Sports was elated with Nethra’s accomplishment and had this to say, “We are ecstatic to see that one of the athletes from Dream Sports Foundation's elite training program, 'Stars Of Tomorrow', has qualified for the Olympics. We congratulate Nethra on this significant milestone. Her achievement truly highlights the potential of our country's sporting talent and what they can attain at an international level with strong support. In partnership with GoSports Foundation, we hope to identify and nurture many more gifted young athletes so they can realise their career goals and win accolades for our country.”

Everyone associated with GoSports Foundation is extremely proud of Nethra for her Olympic qualification, having been a part of her journey since 2019. Speaking on the occasion, Executive Director of GoSports Foundation, Deepthi Bopaiah, said “Through the support of Dream Sports Foundation and Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports, it has been incredible to put together a team of sports science experts to work with Nethra on various aspects of her sport, and create a high performance team around her to help her fulfill her potential and develop holistically.” 

Looking forward, an important few months await Nethra, as she gets ready to put all her efforts into preparing as well as she possibly can for Tokyo, and continue to be the best she can be. The peak age for a professional sailor usually begins around 28, as sailing is an extremely experiential sport. At just 23, this makes Nethra’s accomplishments all the more amazing, and she is constantly raising the bar! The possibilities are limitless for her as she continues to work tirelessly to become the best. India should be proud to have a superstar like her chartering her own course and breaking barriers along the way. Sailing is all about adventure, and it seems to have met its match with Nethra! 

The virtual press conference was attended by Nethra, her father, Mr. Kumanan VC (Top Left), Executive Director of GoSports Foundation, Ms. Deepthi Bopaiah (Top Right), Joint Secretary General of the YAI, Captain Jitendra Dixit (Bottom Left), and Nethra's coach at the Sailing Academy Gran Canaria, Mr. Tamas Eszes (Bottom Right)