Seoul 1988 was an amazing experience: Kamlesh Mehta

Former Olympian Kamlesh Mehta considers himself extremely fortunate to be the first paddler from India to qualify for the 1988 Seoul Olympics where the sport made its maiden appearance.

Fully focussed: India’s table tennis legend Kamlesh Mehta at his peak during the late 1980s. Pic/ MiD DAY archives

The 52-year-old table tennis ace said that had it not been for the Olympics, he wouldn’t have got a chance to meet his sporting hero Edwin Moses, the American track and field athlete, who won gold medals in the 400m hurdles at the 1976 and 1984 Olympics.

“Being the first person from the country to qualify for the Seoul Games gave me a sense of achievement and pride. Standing in a queue with international stars like America’s track and field great Carl Lewis, top tennis players Steffi Graf and Sweden’s Stefan Edberg at the dining hall was amazing. It was magnificent to shake hands with my childhood hero Moses. That will always be my life’s most memorable moment,” Mehta told MiD DAY yesterday.

The current national table tennis selector-cum-coach said that the 1992 Barcelona Olympics was memorable too.

“In those days, the Olympics had a league format and defeating a Chinese opponent was considered a great achievement. In Barcelona I beat medal contender Lu Lin of China 2-0. Lin went on to win gold in the men’s doubles. It was a huge moment for me when the crowd applauded,” said Mehta, whose four silver and four bronze medals is the best tally by an Indian player at the Commonwealth Games. Being at the Athens Olympics in 2004 was a rich experience. “I went to Athens as coach of Achanta Sharath Kamal and Mouma Das. Though they made an exit in the knockout stage, it was great to be at a historic venue of the Olympic Games,” said Mehta.

Youngsters Ankita, Saumyajit have nothing to lose: Mehta
Table tennis ace Kamlesh Mehta, who represented India at the Seoul (1988) and Barcelona (1992) Games, felt youngsters Ankita Das and Saumyajit Ghosh, who have qualified for the Games, have nothing to lose as they embark on their Olympic journey. “Ankita and Saumyajit are underdogs. So, they shouldn’t think about a medal — just go and out there and play to the best of their ability. They have nothing to lose and should take each match as it comes. The London experience will come in handy in future. They will be pitted against the best right from the start. They must put in their 150 per cent and not succumb to pressure,” said Mehta. 

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