Wednesday, Nov 30, 2022

National Games Have Their Place, They Are Preparation For CWG, Asian Games Or Olympics: Harmeet Desai

Harmeet Desai, Gujarat’s men’s singles TT gold medalist, says the National Games are important for players to get a feel of multi-discipline events, as well as for fans and aspirants to see Indian stars in action.

Harmeet Desai left for World Team Table Tennis Championships 2022 soon after winning the National Games singles gold medal.
Harmeet Desai left for World Team Table Tennis Championships 2022 soon after winning the National Games singles gold medal. Photo: SAI

On the face of it, Harmeet Desai’s name seems an example of national integration. Desai is Gujarati, but ‘Harmeet’ is more common in Punjab. (More Interviews)

What’s the secret, champ?

Speaking to ‘Outlook’ from Chengdu, China, where he flew for the World Table Tennis Championships barely a day after his thrilling win in the National Games in Surat, the 29-year-old chuckled.

“Nothing like that,” Desai said. “My parents wanted one of Lord Shiva’s 1000 names for me. Harmeet means Shiva.”

With that out of the way, Desai shared his thoughts on the relevance of the National Games. Just a few weeks ago, he had played a crucial role in India’s gold medal win at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games. But though a seasoned international campaigner, with wins over the country’s finest – such as G Sathiyan and Sharath Kamal – Desai still finds value in the National Games. In Surat, the stands were boisterous when he played. And Desai gave his home crowd the perfect gift, a men’s singles gold medal for Gujarat, one of the state’s three in TT.

Excerpts from an interview:

Is the World Championships schedule on track? Or has anything changed due to flight cancellations owing to political happenings in China?

They are going ahead as scheduled (September 30-October 9). We have already started practice. The National Games TT got over on September 24. We left on the 25th. I had no time even to stay home or celebrate the win. But no complaints.

You’ve performed and won medals internationally, including at the Commonwealth Games. What’s the motivation for you to participate in the National Games?

The National Games are special because we don’t get many chances to represent the state. To win medals for the state is a big thing. We [Gujarat] never had such a good team as now. Manav Thakkar is there, Manush Shah is there. All three of us are in the top-5 in the National rankings. So we were looking forward to the National Games. Lu​ckily they happened in Gujarat. To win gold at home was special.

In terms of competition and atmosphere, what are the differences in international events and the National Games?

Naturally, the level of competition in international events is much tougher. But the National Games still have their place because they are preparation for the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games or the Olympics. They are also important for upcoming players, who can get the experience of a large, multi-sport event. Also, for fans, or those who are thinking of pursuing sport as their career... it is important for them to watch the country’s top players on home soil. So it is important that the National Games continue to happen for the betterment of Indian sport.

Speaking of fans, how much energy did you draw from the crowd in Surat?

The crowd was electrifying. I had not expected people to come in such huge numbers. [But] There was no other sport clashing with TT in the schedule [and that helped]. Playing in my home city made it really special. Besides, there were players like Sathiyan, Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra in action. People wanted to see them live. Everyone was asking me if I would have added pressure playing at home. But that wasn’t the case. In fact, it gave me extra confidence, and motivation to do well.

Do you see other Indian states doing better in table tennis since the last few years?

Many states have been doing well. For example, Gujarat was nowhere on the scene about ten years ago. We had one or two good players but now we have three players in the country’s top-5, and all three of us are representing India at the World Championships. Telangana has been doing well. Tamil Nadu and Bengal were always good. Delhi had slipped a bit but they are doing well again on the men’s side. Table tennis is growing in the country, and I hope it continues.

‘Judega India, jeetega India’ (India will unite, India will win) is the slogan of the National Games. Can you share an experience from your career where sport was a unifying factor?

In the National Games, there are so many instances where you meet athletes from different sports and states. This kind of feeling doesn’t come in regular, single-sport events, where only TT is happening, or badminton is happening. This was my third National Games, and there are so many friends I have made through the event. There is so much athletes learn from one another.

What is your success mantra?

Follow the passion. Be very disciplined, determined and patient towards your goal, and definitely the results will come. Sometimes it takes longer than you expect, but you will achieve your goals.


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