Every athlete dreams of representing the country at the highest level. But three-time Olympian and veteran India table tennis player Achanta Sharath Kamal has learned over the years that making the cut for a mega-event like the Olympics is a battle in itself.
Kamal made his maiden Olympic appearance in Athens 2004. He later became the lone Indian paddler to qualify for Beijing 2008. His third appearance at the Olympics came in Rio 2016.
"We just need to qualify. It's more difficult to qualify (for the Olympics) than the actual event itself," Sharath Kamal to the Olympic Channel.
The Indian table tennis contingent will have a chance to make a cut to Tokyo 2020 at the Asian Olympic qualifier from March 13 to 15 in Doha followed by the World Olympic qualifier at the same venue from March 16 to 19.
Sharath Kamal, the only Indian to win the senior national for a record nine times, believes India's best chance may come at the team event and mixed doubles category, where he will pair up with Manika Batra.
"Both in the team and mixed event we have a fair chance for a medal because its only 16 teams," the 38-year-old said.
"But unfortunately, in the team event we lost last year in January. So, there we have failed, and now it's up to mixed doubles. And we are actually at 17 or 18th spot, we need to cut it to 16. At the World or Asian Qualifier, we need to get to that stage."
The Indian team faced a major setback as they failed to secure a berth at the Olympic Team Qualification event in Portugal, 2020. As the leader of the pack, Sharath Kamal took the responsibility for that performance.
"I have to take the responsibility being the captain, being the leader of the team," he said.
"G Sathiyan and Harmeet Desai look up to me; I should have continued to take on the battle myself rather than thinking that Sathiyan could take it on. But it was his first Olympics qualifier. More so, it was like we were a bit inexperienced because it was the first time we were going for the team qualifier. And were taken a little bit off guard."
The doubles pair of Kamal and Harmeet Desai lost to Tomas Polansky and Lubomir Jancarik in the event. One of the more experienced campaigners in the side G Sathiyan lost both his singles matches while the Indian women's team consisting Manika Batra, Ayhika Mukherjee and Sutirtha Mukherjee lost to France 3-2.
"It's the pressure, people are talking so much, it gets to you. That's where we were a bit immature I would say," he added.