Who is Vishnu Saravanan

The Indian sailor’s ticket to his maiden Olympics is an appropriate reward for years of hard work and sacrifice and fulfills a collective family dream.
By Rahul Venkat

Four Indian sailors booked their spots for Tokyo 2020 at the Mussanah Open Championship in Oman last week. One of them was perhaps born to do so!

For Vishnu Saravanan, it was double delight. Apart from fulfilling his own ambition, he ‘rewarded’ his father, the man who taught him how to tame the ferocious sea winds.

Vishnu Saravanan finished second in the Laser Standard class in Oman, thus earning the second Asian quota spot for the Tokyo, his maiden Olympic Games.

“I always wanted to achieve what my dad could not, so I am following his footsteps and he has given me the pathway to the Olympics. He has been through a lot to make me what I am today,” Vishnu Saravanan told Firstpost after qualifying.

Qualifying for the Olympics requires enormous grit, determination and sacrifice to go along with some natural talent and Vishnu Saravanan has all those qualities.

Introduced to the sport by his armyman father Ramachandran Saravanan, a former sailor himself who was unable to pursue sailing professionally. However, he saw some talent in his two children – Vishnu and Ramya.

As a 17-year-old, Vishnu was selected in the Madras Engineers Group (MEG) Boys Sports Company as a cadet in 2015.

The teenager’s talent was soon apparent.

Vishnu Saravanan started winning multiple medals at the junior national events, becoming a youth national champion in 2016. He also won silver at a Hong Kong series in 2016 and was then enrolled in the Indian Army as a Naib Subedar the following year. The Indian Army proved instrumental in supporting the youngster’s career.

Vishnu Saravanan won his first senior national championship in 2018. By then, he shifted to Malta to train at the Sail Coach Academy under Olympian sailor Alexandr Denisiuc of Moldova.

The training soon paid off as Vishnu Saravanan travelled to the Laser Under-21 World Championships in 2019 in Croatia and won the bronze medal. It set him up for the Olympic qualifiers in Abu Dhabi in March 2020.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic poured water on his plans. The boats and other equipment were left in Abu Dhabi while young Vishnu was back in Malta, feeling demotivated with all the uncertainty.

It was then that coach Alexandr Denisiuc suggested that they work on improving his physique and gave him a target to meet. 

“We started doing different things. We were focusing more on physical preparation because it is very important to have a good physique in this sport and we worked on every joint in the body,” Vishnu Saravanan added in the Firstpost interview.

Apart from the physical aspects, the young sailor also worked on mental conditioning with Irishman Trevor Millar, who founded the Sail Coach Academy in Malta where Vishnu trained.

It kept Vishnu ready for a return to international competition and helped when the Mussanah Open Championship was announced as an Asian Olympic qualifier.

Vishnu Saravanan and his team worked quickly to move the boats from Abu Dhabi to Oman and he impressed immediately, putting himself in a strong position in the Laser Standard class with consistent finishes in the top-five. The Laser Standard is a small, lightweight boat with a single mast.

In the medal rounds, the Indian sailor pulled off a great victory to win gold, which placed him second overall in standings behind Singapore’s Ryan Lo Jun Han, thus ensuring that he sealed the second Asian berth on offer.

“I was nervous and emotional before and after the race. During the race, I was feeling my heartbeat. I was telling myself to be in the present and now, it feels great to be part of history," he told PTI after making the cut.

His sister Ramya Saravanan was also in the mix in the Laser Radial category but finished sixth to miss the Tokyo cut by a few points.

However, the Saravanan family did achieve its dream of a sailor going to the Olympics.