Interview with Karthick Gopinathan: "I work as a software engineer to support my fencing career"
Fencing, a sport which began in Italy in the 18th century has been part of the Olympics since its inception. India has unable to have a single fencer compete in the Olympics in its history. However, one of India’s brightest fencers, Karthick Gopinathan has set his sights on a podium finish at the multi-sport event.
The 24-year-old fencer won a silver medal and a bronze in the South Asian Fencing Championship in 2012 while he ranked 11th in Asia in 2007 as a school-going kid. Last year, Karthick won a bronze medal at the 5th Fencing Federation Cup held at Patiala. He currently works at Tech Mahindra as a to supports his fencing career and bring laurels to the country.
The fencer talked to Sportskeeda over the phone and e-mail shedding light on the sport, juggling a career as a sportsperson and a techie and his aims for the future.
Here are the excerpts:
Q. How did you get into fencing?
I have had a passion for sports since my childhood and started training myself in athletics, to be precise in Triathlon (100m, high jump and long jump) during my school days and also won a state medal for the same in 2003. During this time, my brother, who was also an athlete, got an offer to join with the Tamil Nadu fencing team, but he rejected it and the offer was passed to me on my brother’s suggestion.
Initially, I was a bit hesitant to join this sport, as I felt it was too dangerous. But my brother and his friends helped me ease the fear and motivated me to pursue fencing. And as they say, the rest is history, as I have won more than 100+ medals in total and was really proud when I represented my country at South Asian Fencing Championship held in 2012.
Q. How do you get time to juggle fencing and your job? Do you work to support your fencing career?
Initially, it was very hectic and I faced many challenges to balance both my passion and work. I used to practice in the early mornings and late evenings to compensate it with my work timings. Thanks to all my colleagues and especially Mr. Essaki Muthu, ATT Head-Chennai, Tech Mahindra who motivated me and helped me through my difficult times during work. And yes, I work to support my fencing career.
Q. Have the government done enough for fencing?
I would say ‘Yes as well as No’. Yes, because they are sponsoring and arranging fencing equipments for only elite sportsmen and arranging training camps for budding fencers. I say no, because these opportunities are very limited and the government can ensure that they can bring more sponsors and raise the standard of this sport in India. Unless an athlete earns a medal, the government does not support him/her.
Q. How are the fencing facilities in India?
On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being the lowest and 10 being the highest, I would rate the facilities provided in India as ‘6’. I would say ‘9’ for the facilities available in Indian Army alone, because they are providing International coaches for the fencers there. When I started practicing this sport 10 years ago, there weren’t plenty of swords available, instead we were given bamboo sticks as a replacement. But, now the standards have raised as many coaching centres provide electrical equipments for practice.
Q. You have achieved so much, but which particular win do you hold dear?
Not one, but I hold two particular wins as the most remembering and remarkable wins of my career. First is my maiden individual medal at Sub-Junior Fencing Championship in 2004. And the second is the proudest moment when I won a medal for India at the South Asian Fencing Championship held here in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
Q. Where do you think India ranks with the world in terms of fencing?
We are improving. Recently our Indian team won medals in Commonwealth and in Asian Championships. But, we have to step up and prove ourselves in the World Championship and Olympics to reach a prestigious level.
We need more internationally-certified foreign coaches to improve the game here in India. The coaches available here are good, but to win more gold medals in major Championships, we need a level of expertise which the foreign coaches are bringing to the game, which in turn will help us win more gold for India at the International events including the Olympics.
Q. Did your parents ever object to your fencing? If so, how did you convince them?
There were many obstacles initially, my parents forced me to stop practicing and feared about getting injured. But, my brother stood up for me, supported, convinced and explained it to my parents. Practically, it is a very dangerous sport, one small mistake can cost your life, I have seen several people who are injured and are not in a position to take up this sport again. But, the passion for the sport, any sport for the matter, is what drives you to the end line.
Q. Do you think there are enough youngsters taking up the sport?
No, there are not many youngsters willing to take up fencing, the main reason is less awareness for fencing when compared to other sports in India. As mentioned before, the Government can initiate more promotions and awareness for fencing. They can increase the number of training camps, build more coaching centres and could bring in internationally-certified foreign coaches to improve this sport.
Q. Fencing is one of the 5 sports that has featured in every Olympics. Do you think it is high time India paid more attention to it?
Yes definitely, winning a medal at Olympics is what every sportsperson thinks, breathes and lives about. To achieve this, we need good practice, good equipments, and on top of that good coaches who motivate day in and day out. It is high time our government turn their attention towards fencing as there is always huge possibility to win medals in this sport.
Q. When do you think India can compete in the Olympics and eventually win a medal?
Realistically, I would say it’s a long road, but practically speaking India has a good chance of competing at the 2020 Olympics. Bagging a medal, that’s a question for the future.
Q. What are your future goals?
My aim is to represent India at the Olympics and bag a medal, be it Gold/Silver/Bronze, it doesn’t matter, I just want to stand there on the podium waving the Indian flag high. Apart from this, I want to be a brand ambassador of this game and promote it to budding sportspersons.