by Neha Aggarwal
One of the most important competitions for the Indian table tennis team is the Commonwealth Games. In the 2006 edition, the country came back with three medals (two golds and one bronze), in 2010 India was a new team altogether as they won a total of five medals (one gold, one silver and three bronze) and in 2014 the performance dropped as India managed to win only one silver medal.
The man behind India’s success from 2009-2010 was the country’s national team coach- Massimo Costantini.
2009-2010 was a golden period for Indian team . Massimo or ‘Max’, as he is lovingly called by the players, has been given the responsibility to help India win more medals at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 at Gold Coast, Australia.
Costantini, a former Olympian from Italy is thrilled to be back in India. He claims to have some unfinished business as he said,
“When I left the country after the 2010 Commonwealth Games, I left something behind, a legacy and some unfinished tasks. I was able to help India win five medals at the Commonwealth Games but together, we had much more to accomplish. I have to conclude the responsibility I took over in 2009 and finish the mission that was left uninterrupted.”
Explaining the current table tennis scenario in India, Costantini said, “Compared to six years back, the India players are much more curious and table tennis in India is very active and alive. We can have better results as compared to what we achieved in 2010.”
Under Costantini’s leadership from 2009-2010, the Indian players saw a considerable improvement in their technique, physical fitness and mental tenacity. The players also improved their world rankings, Sharath Kamal won one ITTF World Tour title and of course a five medal winning performance at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. But more than anything else, the Indians trained together as a one team, as one nation, the credit for this undoubtedly goes to Costantini.
Connecting the dots
Costantini said that the Indian players have a great deal of potential, they are working hard but something is missing. “The drawback is that the players don’t trust themselves enough and underestimate themselves. I have a feeling that something can happen and I want to make it happen. Currently, the players are passionate, however, they are working randomly at different areas and on different parts of the game. We all need to work towards a common goal. I am here to connect the dots.”
“To win medals at the international front, the players need to perform consistently at that level. They need to experience that winning feeling consistently with achievable targets. Consider the progress of Jun Mizutani (JPN): he was ranked in top 30 in the world eight years ago, in 2009 he made it to the top 20, entered the top 10 rankings in 2010, had a slight slump in 2013 but since 2014 has been either world number five, six or seven. Finally this year at the 2016 Olympic Games, he won the bronze medal for Japan. Thus, winning is a long term consistent process and I see that the Indians can also do it, they just need to be guided the right way.”- Massimo Costantini
Bringing the men’s team together
All the players on the Indian men’s team currently train in Europe at different locations. Soumyajit Ghosh, Achanta Sharath Kamal, Anthony Amalraj, Harmeet Desai, Sanil Shetty, all train in different clubs in Europe. Only G.Sathiyan trains in India for a major time, apart from some short camps in Europe. To bring all of them together for training for 2018 Commonwealth Games is thus, challenging.
Costantini said, “As a team, we have certain priorities, the Commonwealth Games, the World Championships and the Olympic Games. We now have a plan for all these competitions and we will give the team the right conditions for practice. If we create proper conditions, it wont be a big deal to be together, and if we need results, we all need to be together. In China when they have national games, the players don’t play abroad. Top players don’t move too much. Thus, we have to focus on our priority as a national team.”
When Costantini left in 2010, the then emerging players are now the top players of 2016, such as Soumyajit Ghosh and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran. The times have changed and he is thrilled to be working with the new lot.
Support from TTFI and Indian Government
Post the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the Indian government reduced the funding for table tennis due to the drop in performance. Thus in the new Commonwealth Games cycle, the funding could be a challenge. However, Costantini is positive, he says,
“As soon as I joined India, I attended a couple of meetings with Sports Authority of India, the Sports Ministry and Table Tennis Federation of India. I felt the renovated enthusiasm for table tennis in India. There is a good response from the government. They are ambitious to do well in 2018 and 2020. I am sure that the support I ask in terms of funds for training camps, sparring partners, support staff, coaches, etc., will be granted.
“I am currently working on the training plan from 1st April 2017 to 31st March 2018. We are currently at the national training center located in the north Indian city of Patiala, where I am working with four women, four youth men and rest junior boys and girls for a preparatory camp for the World Junior Championships in December this year” said Costantini.
He further elaborated on his plans, ” I want to make my time In india as useful as possible. I not only want to work with the national team but also with the players and coaches in various states and local academies. I want to make my stay as a promotional action as well because India is a huge country and there is an incredible immediate response, a newly found enthusiasm and we should not miss this opportunity.”
Back in 2010, Massimo did something magical. He brought a divided team all together. He inculcated a feeling of “togetherness” in the Indians.
At the award ceremony of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, as the Indian flag went up, the players standing on top of the podium had tears of joy in their eyes. Along with them, the players who were part of the training program but did not make it to the team also shared the same emotion. The entire squad of 20 players who were part of the training program, won. India as a nation, won.
Massimo Costantini is back in India to make it happen, all over again.
Mission: Gold Coast 2018.