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Biggest award of my life: Amalraj

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He was hoping against hope in 2016, especially after helping India win men doubles silver in Glasgow—a lone medal for table tennis from the Games in 2014. But he was ignored the Arjuna. Understandably, Anthony Amalraj was disappointed and deeply hurt. Yet he was happy for the fellow Team India paddler, Soumyajit Ghosh, who was preferred because the brief to the selection committee was to consider those qualified for the Olympics at Rio.

 

Even a patient Amalraj, at 31, was naturally getting frustrated despite being consistent—the sports ministry’s norms speak volumes about it—over a period time, particularly ever since he won his first national title in 2012 at Lucknow. In fact, he had helped India win team silver and mixed doubles bronze at the 2010 CWG at New Delhi. With such a consistency, he had every right to feel that he was a natural choice for the coveted honour.

 

The long wait seemed to have created so much of self-doubts in the Chennai-based paddler that when the news was broken on August 4 by his well-wishers from TTFI about the committee’s recommendation, he couldn’t believe his ears. Since then he spent some sleepless nights, waiting for Sports Minister Vijay Goel’s stamp of approval on the recommendation and the D-Day on August 29.

 

In fact, the time lag at Rashtrapati Bhavan on the National Sports Day looked dragging on, endlessly. Finally, when his name was announced, Amalraj took a deep breath, stood up, walked up to President Ram Nath Kovind,as he had rehearsed the previous day,to the thunderous applause from the audience to receive the award and the scroll.

 

Happy and relieved, Amalraj admitted that it (the Arjuna) was the biggest award in his life. “The long wait is over. I can concentrate well and play freely,” said an elated Amalraj.

 

One could see a big sigh of relief on the destiny child of Indian table tennis. As a 10-year-old, he joined the Petroleum Sports Academy at Ajmer with a long-cherished dream of emulating legends like G. Jagannath, V. Chandrasekhar and S. Raman from Chennai and laying his hands on the bronze statue. 

 

Despite being heartbroken last year, the two-time national champion had kept his faith in god and believed in himself. A hardworking paddler, he owes his success to several of his well-wishers, including his family members, who supported him through his thick and thin. He has several times mentioned about the sacrifices his family had made, especially his sister. “My sister performed all the family duties and responsibilities which I should have as a son. My family wanted me to concentrate on my game and achieve greater heights. Today, my family feels it was all worth it,” he told The Hindu.

 

Amalraj has quietly overcome all challenges, in domestic as well as competitions abroad, to bring home international medals. His perseverance and consistency stands out when compared with his peers. Amalraj has a team gold, singles silver and men doubles bronze from the 2015 edition to go with the team silver from 2013 in Commonwealth championships. Having reached finals at two World Tour events in 2017 and winning men doubles gold, Amalraj’s immediate goal would be to maintain form and work on his fitness. He is hovering around the mid-120s in world rankings and his priority would be to break into the top-100 and join the elite band and, of course, win medals in the Commonwealth Games at Gold Cost (2018).

 

Amalraj, in his hour of triumph, remembered to express his gratitude to the members of TTFI, his employers ONGC, all the coaches and friends in the media for their support.He also recalled his days at the PSPB Academy and thanked those who shaped his career in the formative years.

 

TTFI Secretary General hosted a dinner at his residence in his honour to celebrate the occasion where several dignitaries, including TTFI Advisor Dhanraj Choudhary, DSTTA General Secretary Manjit Dua and other officials and friends from media were present.

 

TTFI President Dushyant Chautala, who could not attend the dinner, had sent a special congratulatory message to Amalraj. “You have done all of us proud. My best wishes for the future.”

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