Most sportspersons’ dreams and aspirations are, in general, nurtured by their parents. They succeed not because of the system, but because of the sacrifices and efforts of their father and mother.
Leander Paes, Viswanathan Anand, and now R. Praggnanandhaa and D. Gukesh are a case in point.
Indian sailors, Vishnu Saravanan and Ramya Saravanan, the brother-sister duo, have been consistent performers at the National and International scene.
Vishnu shot into the limelight by winning the laser standard bronze in his maiden Asian Games at Hangzhou while his younger sister Ramya missed a medal by a small margin, finishing fourth with Siddeshwar Indar Doiphode in the mixed multihull (NACRA 17) section.
Vishnu was initiated to the sport by his father R. Saravanan. Curiously, Saravanan started as a windsurfer and then moved on to sailing; he was a multiple National championship medallist in both. He realised that rowing didn’t give him enough opportunities to shine when he despite qualifying in coxless fours in the Olympic qualifier in 1995, couldn’t make it to Atlanta Olympics. “The Government then felt that there was no point in sending the team for Olympics,” he said.
Born and brought up in Vellore, Saravanan was recruited by the Army and got his first posting in Pune in 1991 and he later moved to Mumbai.
It was at the Army Yachting Node in Mumbai where he was doing a camp in which Vishnu and Ramya were present, that he decided that there does exist a bright future for his son and daughter in sailing.
“I have trained them in juniors, sub-juniors along with a lot of other students. In one such camp, I thought my son and daughter can do well. I supported them. What I didn’t get in my career, I wanted to provide it for my son and daughter,” said Saravanan.
Elaborating on his son’s progress, Saravanan said: “We organised a camp in 2008 at AYN in Mumbai. First Vishnu began in the Optimist (below 14 yeas) and soon Ramya followed. Vishnu started winning medals. Seeing his brother, Ramya followed it as a matter of routine. In the 2009-10 junior Nationals in Mumbai, Vishnu finished seventh in Optimist class, but got the gold medal as the youngest in the Optimist section. That was the turning point for him,” said Saravanan.
According to Saravanan, Vishnu and Ramya are the best of friends and they are his soul partners. “They are like my two eyes,” says the father. “During training, they help each other and we don’t have to look for outside support for pace partners during training,” he said, while adding, “They are the two of my best partners.”
Saravanan is proud of inspiring his children in sailing. “We have more than 200 medals at home. Our conversations are almost always about sports. They have seen in my India jersey. When they were young, they always used to tell, ‘We will also win medals,’” he said.
Being from South India where there is more emphasis on education, Saravanan’s wife insisted that their children study and finish their basic education.
“I always said that sport is important and that they will have a better and brighter future if they pursue sport. But my wife insisted on their education. In fact, for their Std. X and XII, tuitions were arranged. We are happy that they are graduates now,” said Saravanan.
Saravanan is of the opinion that Vishnu would have won a gold at Hangzhou had it not been for three countries ganging up against India and cancellation of race on the last day.
“Japan, Korea and Singapore tried to gang up to prevent India from winning a medal. We call it ‘team racing’. Vishnu still fought hard to win a medal. The last day of the race got cancelled. Otherwise, he would have clinched a gold. We were all a bit unhappy. Bronze is still a great achievement and that too in his first Asian Games,” said Saravanan.
Ramya was distraught after losing bronze at Hangzhou, her second Asian Games (the first was in 2014) by a whisker. She called up her mom Rajeshwari Saravanan and cried her heart out. “It was upsetting for all of us because she had prepared really well. In the last two days of the race, the stiller extension of the boat broke. It took time to repair it and they dropped down the race. If not for that, she would have got a medal,” said Rajeshwari.
“She is really dedicated and very strict on diet control unlike Vishnu who loves South Indian food. He loves Idli, rice and drumstick sambhar. Every time he returns home from abroad from training, he asks me to make Idli and Sambhar,” she added.
Saravanan calls his son one of the most dedicated sportspersons. “He is very quiet, determined and I would even say that he is god’s gift to sailing. He will definitely win a medal in the next Olympics,” said Saravanan.
Rajeshwari said they have put all their money on their children and their only desire is to see them achieve their goals. “My husband retired in 2019. Both want to win a medal at major international events. We are fully behind them,” she said.