In his fifth Olympics, Sharath Kamal feels his best is yet to come

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Chennai, Jul 8 (PTI) Set for his fifth Olympic appearance in Paris, Indian flagbearer Achanta Sharath Kamal feels he is scaling new heights with each passing year and believes his "best is yet to come." The 41-year-old turned the clock back to win three gold medals, including one in men's singles, at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in 2022.

He returned empty-handed at last year's Asian Games in Hangzhou, but Sharath helped Indian men's team clinch a historic Paris Olympics quota via world rankings following their last-16 finish at the World Table Tennis Championships in Busan in February.

"I am happy that I'm scaling new heights with each passing year, besides improving both physically and mentally. I hope the best is yet to come," the top-ranked Indian told PTI.

"To highlight one particular achievement from my career would not do justice to my other achievements. The Asian Games bronze (Jakarta 2018) and Commonwealth Games gold are two of the highs of my career," said the Sharath, who boasts of 13 CWG medals in his cabinet.

"I'm pretty sure I haven't left any stone unturned. I have done everything possible from my side, and I hope the results will follow," added Sharath, who has climbed from being world No 88 to 34 in ITTF rankings.

Having begun his Olympic journey at Athens 2004 as a 21-year-old, Sharath dreams of a podium finish after reuniting with Italian coach Massimo Costantini.

"Back then, I didn't know what getting into the Olympics was. But I have built up into the player I am right now, and hopefully, in my fifth Olympics, I have a chance to get that medal. And once that happens, I can be truly satisfied with my career," he reckoned.

The 66-year-old had coached India from 2009-2010 and from 2016-2018 was part of their success at 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2018 Asian Game. India had bagged a record haul of eight medals at the CWG 2018, followed by two bronze at the Indonesia showpiece.

"He brings a lot of confidence from around himself and to the team. It is something that I require since a lot of us are working individually. But how can we get it together, Max has been helping us in achieving it." But to speak of the reality, a podium finish is going to be an "uphill task", Sharath acknowledged.

"It's going to be very tough, and we are apparently seeded 14th or 15th, making the task even more uphill. But, we are optimistic as well because with the kind of form all of us have been playing.

"The girls are going to go a long way in the Olympics, same for the boys. We want to do it," he said.

He further said he has learnt 'periodisation' or systematic training as he looks to implement the knowledge this time around.

"It has immensely helped me in preparations -- trying to understand my body and mind. Periodisation is something that I have learnt over the years, and I'm looking to bring that knowledge into practice in Paris," he said.

"I'm not getting younger any day. Age is not on my side, and I have to ensure that I reverse the clock. It is something that I'm trying to get better for this Olympics," he said.

Sharath has also undergone a slew of tests, including genetic and bone density scans to get better through sports science.

"It was mainly to ensure that I don't make mistakes about what exactly has to be done. For instance, I have an intolerance towards some substance, how to stay away from it and to have the best knowledge from sports science," he explained.

"I did not have a major access to sports science before Tokyo, and only then I realised that it can help us in getting better. That's the reason we do these tests to ensure that even the small differences go a long way, especially in situations like the Olympics." A few months back, Sharath underwent a training session in Germany for four weeks, and he confessed that he did work a lot on his technical aspects during this session.

"There I focused a lot on working on my technical aspects and sharpening my skills, and I tried to practice with different levels of players in different conditions. It's helped me a lot, and now it's time to put all those (learnings) into action," he added in the interaction arranged by Timelinks. PTI AYG AYG TAP

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