Playing even one set of squash can be demanding unless you are regular at the courts and keep yourself physically trim. Even then a full match on a squash court can leave one gasping for breath. So then what will it be to play not just squash but table tennis, badminton and tennis also, all at one go, can easily be imagined! This is the sport of racketlon which requires the participant to be adept in all the four racket sports and the best performer overall emerges the champion. Almost like a triathlon where the requirement is a prowess in swimming, cycling and running.
Racketlon may sound new to this part of Asia, but is already a popular sport in Europe and there is a world championship held annually in addition to challenger and world tour events. In every sense, it is a well-established sport in this continent with good participation and tremendous enthusiasm overall. Considering this, for an Indian to have caught the imagination of the racketlon fraternity there on his very first visit was not just unusual but as it turned out commendable.
Winning gold medals in two international tournaments in Denmark and Belgium he turned a hero. Ashutosh Avinash Pednekar was that proud Indian. A commander in the Indian Navy this 45-year-old sports lover and practitioner decided on the challenge after he was initiated into this variety of sport by a Pune-based squash player Abhinav. The rest as they say, is history.
“He gave me the interesting aspects of this sport and I got all the details through internet,” said Pednekar, a sound badminton and squash player, on how it all began. No Indian had till date been there for this event, all though an Indian-origin English citizen did take part earlier. “I realised if I had to take part I need to have some strength in table tennis, a sport which was new to me. I gave myself six months to train hard and when I was confident I had touched reasonable level thought of my next step of participation,” he said.
Pednekar, who is based in New Delhi as Secretary of the Services Sports Control Board, has the experience of playing badminton during childhood days and then when he joined the Navy, squash and tennis entered his repertoire. He had won a national bronze medal in squash as a Services player in 2008.
Challenges are nothing new for uniformed men and Pednekar was no exception. Once he was sure of his strength, he was ready to get into the arena, so to say. The Navy officer noted that there were two events happening in May and early June in Europe, the Nordic Racket Games at Vejen in Denmark and then a super world tour event at Oudenaarde in Belgium and after taking leave headed for participation. “Since this was something new I realised official financial aid would be difficult. I was on my own but what mattered to me most was providing a good image there” he said.
Taking part in the amateur class and plus 45 years category simultaneously, Pednekar threw down the gauntlet on a daring note. The challenge was a 21-point one-game match in each of the four racket sport with a three-minute gap between one match and the next. “Depending on the opponent it can be tough, easy or physically draining. My strengths in squash and badminton stood me in good stead,” Pednekar said after he gained notice with gold medal wins in both the events. The Belgium tournament next was a lot more tougher with higher participation from 20 odd countries. Pednekar won the gold in the plus 45 category but in the amateur class, a French man Jermie Puyo outdid the Indian for the gold.
From being an unknown, Pednekar stamped a good impression straight away and now the Navy man has pegged his goal higher. The world championship is scheduled in Germany in November and the Indian is already eyeing for a gold there. “I have planned to sharpen my table tennis skills with a professional trainer and keep in good touch in the other three,” he said of his schedule ahead. What took him by fancy to start with, Pednekar is wanting to be a serious Racketlon challenger of the world. Hopefully, when he returns with laurels this time, this unassuming officer may get the kind of recognition reserved for achievers.