Arjuna Awardee Kutty Saramma, winner of the silver medal in 4x400m relay at 1990 Beijing and 1994 Hiroshima Asian Games, feels India will win more medals at the Tokyo Olympics than in any previous edition, and that the men’s hockey team is capable of finishing on the podium.
Hailing from Kollam in Kerala, Saramma is presently a sports officer with Indian Railways posted in Chennai. She spoke exclusively to IANS on India’s chances at the Tokyo Olympics.
How do you rate the present Indian contingent at the Olympics?
Compared to the 2016 Rio Olympic, India is expected to win more medals… more gold. We have high chances in badminton, boxing, wrestling, weightlifting, shooting, archery and hockey. We have proved ourselves in these games. We expect podium-finish performance from our teams.
Media: What are the chances of an Indian athlete winning a medal?
Kutty Saramma: In independent India, not a single athlete has won a medal, even though the late Milkha Singh and PT Usha missed medals by a whisker. I hope if javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra is able to throw around 90 metres, there is a high possibility of him getting a medal. However, his best is 88.07 metres and in a sport like javelin, conditions, especially wind, are a major factor. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Media: In other track and field events, do you see any medal prospects?
Kutty Saramma: Another big hope is long jumper M. Sreeshankar and shot-putter Tajinderpal Singh. Our men’s 4x400m relay team too has a good chance of making it to the finals if they repeat their season’s best performance.
Media: Indian women’s track and field has always been dominated by athletes from Kerala. Unfortunately, in this Indian contingent, there are no women athletes from Kerala.
Yes, it is unfortunate. Kerala women have dominated track and field events, especially 4x400m relay. I remember the 1988 Asian Track and Field Championships where all four members of the relay contingent were from Kerala. In the global arena, Indian athletics was identified with PT Usha.
I expected PU Chitra in 1500m to make the Olympic cut, but unfortunately she was ranked 50th and in qualifying only ranks up to 45th are allowed. Vismaya and Jisna also missed out on 4X100m relay team slots. As an athlete who has represented the country in several sprint competitions as part of the 4X400 relay team, I feel sad.
Media: Has Covid affected the training of the Indian team?
Kutty Saramma: Yes, due to Covid-19, many exposure trips and competitions got cancelled. Had the athletes been able to participate, they could have identified their strengths and weaknesses. Covid played spoilsport and our training and practice got affected.
Media: How do you rate women athletes in the country?
I have always held Indian women athletes in high esteem and, as I said earlier, PT Usha was highly respected in international athletic arena. Several women athletes have contributed medals for the country at the Olympics, and I hold them in high regard, especially Karnam Malleswari in weightlifting, Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu in badminton, MC Mary Kom in boxing and Sakshi Mallik in wrestling.
Media: Any suggestions to develop sports in the country?
I am fortunate enough for having represented the country at the Asian Games and as part of the Asian contingent in the World Athletics Meet twice — Havana and London. I am part of the team that scouts for talent and provides them jobs in the Railways. Revathi, who is representing the country at Tokyo Olympics, is working with us.
My suggestion is to catch them young and train them at the best facilities. It is not impossible to make world beaters. The day is not far when we become a major force to reckon with in the Olympics.