Meet Nethra Kumanan — the first woman sailor from India to qualify for the Olympics with a love for Bharatnatyam

Meet Nethra Kumanan — the first woman sailor from India to qualify for the Olympics with a love for Bharatnatyam
<p>Nethra Kumanan competing at a sailing even in Gdansk, Germany in October 2020<br></p>​Nethra Kumanan​ campaign page
  • Nethra Kumanan is the first-ever female sailor from India to qualify for sailing in the Olympics.
  • The discipline, hard work and dedication for sailing is something that the 22-year old learnt from the classical Indian dance, Bharatnatyam.
  • She has also dabbled in basketball, tennis and cycling before decided that sailing where she wanted to build a career.
Nethra Kumanan isn’t just the first Indian woman sailor to compete in the Olympics, she’s also the first one to legitimately qualify. The nine Indians who have participated in sailing events at the Olympics before were called in to fill up quotas that could not be occupied, according to the Olympic Channel.

And, she did it with a borrowed boat. Kumanan told ESPN that her boat had undergone serious damage during transit from Abu Dhabi’s port storage to Al Musannah Sports City in Oman as the Asian qualifiers were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Instead, she had to borrow a boat from her teammate, Ram Milan Yadav. "He [Yadav] was nice enough to understand that at the end of the day, it was about one of us winning an Olympic berth and helpfully gave me his boat," Kumanan told ESPN. "It was really a team effort."

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But, sailing had to beat out basketball, tennis cycling and the classic Indian dance form of Bharatnatyam for the girl from Chennai to be standing on the world stage.

The choice to sail beat out basketball, tennis, cycling — and Bharatnatyam


Kumanan will compete in this year’s Tokyo Olympics, which kicks off on July 23, in the laser radial class of sailing. The laser radial is a small boat, just big enough to carry one person, who has to navigate the boat.

Meet Nethra Kumanan — the first woman sailor from India to qualify for the Olympics with a love for Bharatnatyam
Laser radial boats competing in the OlympicsOlympic Channel

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And sailing is a love that Kumanan found early in life. Born in 1997, she was introduced to the sport during a summer camp organised by the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association at the age of 14.

However, at the time, sailing was not her only interest. She was also into tennis, basketball and cycling. The one activity she loved, apart from sports, was Bharatanatyam.

“Discipline, hard work and dedication are things I have learnt from the dance form and something that helps me even today,” Kumanan told the Indian Express. But it was sailing that won out at the end of the day.

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Her first podium finish at an international event came in 2014 at the India International Regatta in Chennai. From there Kumanan went on to represent India at the 2014 and 2018 Asian Games.

Last year, she first made history by becoming the first Indian to win a medal in sailing at the Hempel World Series in Miami, where she clinched a bronze. And since then Kumanan has had her eye on the ultimate prize — the Olympics.

"I love it, it’s like no other sport, and I played everything as a kid,” Kumanan told the Olympic Channel. “Sailing has been different and more mental than any other sport that I’ve tried.”

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Meet Nethra Kumanan — the first woman sailor from India to qualify for the Olympics with a love for Bharatnatyam
Nethra Kumanan tried other sports before deciding that sailing was where she wanted to excelOlympic Channel

Still on the path to becoming an engineer
Kumanan spends a lot of her time in Spain with Hungarian coach Tama Eszes, a two-time Olympian, to train. Back at home, however, she’s an engineering student at the SRM College in Chennai.

Her dad, VC Kumanan, runs his own IT company. In fact, he uses his expertise by crunching data and providing analytical support, for his daughter, during training.

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According to Kumanan, being on the global stage representing India in sailing is another feeling altogether — especially when you come from a country where only a very few know that sailing is even an option as a career.

Meet Nethra Kumanan — the first woman sailor from India to qualify for the Olympics with a love for Bharatnatyam
Nethra Kumanan with her parents and younger brotherNethra Kumanan's campaign page

“If someone younger were to come up to me, I’d tell them that this sport takes a lot of time, a lot of hours in the water but it’s all worth it,” the 23-year old told the Olympic Channel.

Whether she’s able to bring home a medal remains to be seen. But regardless of how she performs in Tokyo, qualifying itself has given her a place in the history books.
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