As the race for Tokyo heats up, many Indian athletes are fulfilling their sporting dreams. On the 18th of March, Thursday, it was the turn of India’s top ranked paddler, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, to qualify for the Olympics and make the nation beam with pride. Competing at the ITTF Asian Olympic Qualification tournament in Qatar on Thursday, Sathiyan topped the South Asia group with two wins out of two, beating compatriot, Sharath Kamal, and Pakistani paddler, Rameez Muhammadand qualified for his maiden Olympic Games. “It’s a priceless moment and I am really speechless to express how I feel right now. It’s been a childhood dream of mine to take part in the Olympics and it is surely one of the best moments of my life! Now that I’ve qualified, I’m looking forward to putting in a strong performance at Tokyo and making my mark there. Achieving qualification has been a hugely emotional moment for me, my family, my coach and everyone who’s been a part of my journey, after all the hard work I’ve put in and sacrifices I’ve made in my career”, said Sathiyan, India’s top ranked table tennis player, post sealing Olympic qualification. 

Sathiyan’s journey to Olympic qualification was anything but easy. Like many young athletes across the country, early on, Sathiyan faced the dilemma of choosing between sports and academics. He worked tirelessly at both, and once he received his engineering degree, he shifted his entire focus to becoming a table tennis sensation for India. This feat of balancing studies and sport at a professional level is a remarkable feat, making him a true role model athlete &inspiration for young sporting enthusiasts and depicting the value of staying focussed and dedicated to achieving one’s goals.

A huge moment in Sathyan’s career was when he met his current coach, Raman Subramaniam, in 2012 who galvanised him and showed incredible belief in his talent, working with him tirelessly over the years to enable him to secure Olympic qualification. In 2015, Sathiyan was chosen for support under the Rahul Dravid Athlete Mentorship Programme (RDAMP), however, his association with GoSports Foundation goes much further back. GoSports had been providing Sathiyan with scholarships since 2012, when he was a junior player, believing whole heartedly that he would grow into an elite sporting athlete for India and emerge into a changemaker for Indian sport. Since 2015, Sathiyan has been receiving holistic support from the RDAMP through the immense contributions of Aditya Birla Group initially, and later on, Aditya Birla Capital, as well as from Sony Pictures Network India. Speaking on his long time association with the Foundation, Sathiyan said, “I don’t have words to express how much impact GoSports Foundation has had on my journey, right since my junior days when I was struggling to make a mark at the senior level. They played a massive role in turning me into a professional by bringing together all the experts like nutritionists, mental conditioning experts and more, under one roof, which has helped me step up my game. They were a one stop shop for all the holistic support I needed in my career. It's just been a great journey with them, going through success and struggles together and , after missing out on a spot at Rio, I wanted to make it count for them and qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.”

Sathiyan has been supported for his nutrition, strength and conditioning, mental conditioning, apparel, equipment & gear, high performance stints, and yoga & well-being sessions through the programme, with various experts coming together over the last five years to strive to give him an edge over his competitors. In 2019, Sathiyan had a mentorship session with former Indian Cricket Captain, Rahul Dravid, engaging with him and picking his brain to understand what it takes to become a sporting champion, which was a very unique experience for the ace paddler. During the lockdown in 2020, a special training robot was procured for Sathiyan as well, to help him stay in shape whilst at home, with no one else to train with! At the National level, The Table Tennis Federation of India has constantly backed Sathiyan throughout his path to Olympic qualification, making it an incredibly proud moment to see their faith culminated with Olympic qualification.

Sathiyan’s career trajectory has been on the upward trend over the years and him qualifying for the Olympic is a reward for the sheer determination and hard work he has displayed.

Accomplishing Olympic qualification bookends a remarkable juggernaut he has been on for the last few years, but there is still more to come. Sathiyan’s coach, Raman Subramaniam, said this about the plans in place for Sathiyan’s Olympic preparation, “We are already ready with the preparation plan, but CoVID seems to be the only dampener in some ways. We have spoken about hiring quality sparring partners if the CoVID situation eases, while matches have been planned too. He needs support up until the Olympic games with respect to having a physio, mental conditioning coach, and my presence at the games as well to round it off.”

Having watched him grow and mature right from his junior days, Sathiyan’s Olympic qualification has been an emotional and inspirational win for everyone at the Foundation. Speaking on this occasion, Executive Director, Deepthi Bopaiah, said “Sathiyan's story has been one of incredible perseverance and determination. To have been supporting him since 2012 as a junior player on the circuit, to seeing him grow into India's best, a lot of people have contributed to making it happen. Mr. Raman sir, and the team of experts- nutritionist, trainers, mental conditioning coach, physiotherapists- and everyone else have put in an immense amount of work over the years and this is the best result we could've all hoped for. We hope he'll be able to experience the Games in all its glory and enjoy every moment of this wonderful journey.” 

The Chennai born paddler will now look forward to the journey ahead in a steadfast manner, leaving no stone unturned for Tokyo, as he aims to fulfill his dreams with the entire world’s eyes on him. Sathiyan has already inspired so many young athletes to pursue their table tennis dreams and beat the odds, and he aims to add Olympic glory to his legacy when he represents the nation at Tokyo in a few months time.