Sailing professional, Indian Army soldier Vishnu Sarvanan secures spot in 2024 Summer Olympics

The Army provided me with everything I needed to advance my career. I found myself with sudden access to best in class coaching and a chance to train on international waters.

  • 1 month ago
  • March 21, 2024
6 min read
Asian Games bronze medalist Vishnu Sarvana of India sails on a on ICLA-7 class boat. | Photo courtesy of Vishnu Sarvana Asian Games bronze medalist Vishnu Sarvana of India sails on a on ICLA-7 class boat. | Photo courtesy of Vishnu Sarvana
Indian competitive sailor Vishnu Sarvana
Journalist’s Notes
Interview Subject
Asian Games bronze medalist Vishnu Sarvanan has made history by becoming the first Indian sailor to qualify for consecutive Olympics in 2024. The 24-year-old secured his spot for the Paris Games at the ICLA-7 World Championship, finishing 26th out of 152 participants. This accomplishment marks a significant milestone for Indian sailing and represents a breakthrough for the sport in the country. Long term, Vishnu wants to inspire children to pursue sailing as a sport and to contribute toward resourcing schools with programs and equipment. He hopes to grow the next generation of sailors as a diverse group.
Background Inormation
Asian Games bronze medalist Vishnu Sarvanan from India, has clinched his spot in the 2024 Paris Olympics. Vishnu stands as the first Indian sailor to qualify for the Olympics for the second time, following his participation in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The National Olympic Committees (NOCs) wield the exclusive authority for the representation of their respective countries at the Olympic Games, and athletes’ participation in the Paris Games depends upon their NOC selecting them to represent their delegation. If everything goes well, Vishnu will join the ranks as only the second Indian sailor to represent India in multiple Olympic Games, following in the footsteps of Farokh Tarapore, who competed in the Los Angeles 1984, Seoul 1988, and Barcelona 1992 Summer Olympics.

MUMBAI, India ꟷ After representing India in sailing at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, I secured my spot for the second time and will compete in Paris in 2024.  Athletes dream of participating in the Olympics. These global sporting events gather the finest athletes from around the world, and to compete against them is an exhilarating rush of adrenaline. In 2024 I hope to achieve what I could not in 2020: to become a notable figure in Indian sailing.

If all goes according to plan, I will join the esteemed ranks of Farokh Tarapore as only the second Indian sailor to represent India in multiple Olympic games. Tarapore competed in Los Angeles in 1984, Seoul in 1988, and Barcelona in 1992. Qualifying for the Summer Games fills me with immense pride and I remain determined to train rigorously to win the medal in 2024.

The path to qualification in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris

I navigate a nimble, single-masted vessel perfectly suited for the challenges of competitive sailing, called the Laser Standard (ILCA 7). Navigating the waters in ILCA Class boats, I forge a strong connection to my vessel. I understand every aspect of the boat, allowing a sense of comfort to settle in. Sailors will tell you; we possess a unique bond with our crafts. They become like indispensable companions at sea.

Imagine sailing under an expansive sky thinking not only of survival but protecting the safety and well-being of your trusted vessel. Like most sailors, I have my own superstitions and rituals. When I embark on a trip, I see the ocean as a divine entity, honoring my Indian culture and the lord of the sea. It is with this in mind, I took on my journey to qualifying for the 2024 Olympic games, first competing in the ILCA 7 Men’s World Championship in Adelaide, Australia.

Out of a field of 152 participants, I finished in 26th place and fifth amongst sailors eligible to secure quotas for the Paris Olympics. Only seven spots remained available at that time. Now here I am, 20 years after starting down this path, sitting in Europe and witnessing my dream. This relentless effort demanded dedication and perseverance.

I endured sunburns, restricted diets, and countless hours of training on land and sea, to not only transform my sailing prowess but to alter my physique. To achieve this, I train at the gym and seek solace at the Army Yachting node in Mumbai. I can spend hours on end in the water without growing tired, but competitions demand far more than endurance.

Sailing on the river with his dad and sister, competitor discovers his passion

As a soldier in the Indian Army and an avid sailor, my father had a dream to bring home a medal in the Asian Games. Yet, he prioritized his commitment to the nation, and circumstances curbed his ambition. In our culture, fulfilling a parent’s aspirations remains a sacred duty and I gained the opportunity to realize my father’s dream.

Growing up around the Army sailing club, my father introduced me to the sport at nine years old. Taking me to the river near our village in Maharashtra, we ventured out on a small fishing boat. He emanated passion, conveying it to me and my sister Ramya Sarvanan. Early on, he recognized our potential. I felt a relentless determination blossom inside of me.

Vishnu is diligently preparing in Europe for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris this year. | Photo courtesy of Vishnu Sarvana

By 17 years old, the Madras Engineers Group (MEG) Boy Sports Company selected me to be a cadet, marking my beginning in professional sailing. Though I gained opportunity, those close to me had little connection to decision makers and I fought to prove myself, always going the extra mile. By 2016, I emerged as a young national champion and then clinched silver in Hong Kong. On the boat, sailing demands my physical strength, resilience, and mental fortitude. Out to sea, the solitude can feel daunting, making me apprehensive. I began to understand the need to nurture my mental well-being and started to prioritize actions to promote my overall health. I refused to cost myself competititions due to setbacks from things like poor dietary choices.

The bronze is not enough: going for the gold in Olympic sailing

Striving to become a professional sailor, I made a decision to join the Indian Army as a Naib Subedar – a junior commissioned soldier in the sports category. The Army provided me with everything I needed to advance my career. I found myself with sudden access to best in class coaching and a chance to train on international waters.

A brand-new chapter began when I started training in Malta at the Sail Coach Academy under the guidance of Olympian Alexandr Denusiuc. When I placed at the Asian Games, I found myself center stage to nationwide attention. Well wishes poured in from every corner of the country. Despite not grabbing the gold, achieving bronze seemed incredible to so many people.

Vishnu received the Arjuna Award, the highest sports award given out by the Prime Minister of India. | Photo courtesy of Vishnu Sarvana

Coming home to India, the wave of accolades offered near celebrity status, then I stepped into my home. My father greeted me calmly with a simple, “Well done.” Then we began discussing my mistakes. With my sights still on the gold, constructive criticism keeps me grounded. It reminds me not to let success inflate my ego. I seek my dad’s advice after every training session.

To this day, I live as I did growing up: modestly, in Army-provided accommodations. I cherish the comforts of home and my mother’s cooking. The simple pleasures keep me rooted. Now, in Europe, I likely will not see home until after Olympics. Being away from family is the hardest part, yet, my love for sailing pushes me forward.

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