New Delhi: After bagging four medals — that included two historic golds — at the Commonwealth Games in Australia, life has been on the fast lane for paddler Manika Batra. Suddenly she is the toast of the nation and the Delhi girl is enjoying every bit of it.
“My cheeks are aching after posing and smiling for the cameras, fans and selfies but I am enjoying it all,” said the soft-spoken Batra in a lighter vein at yet another felicitation.
For the 23-year-old this is just the beginning and she would like to build on it with more success. “When I started playing table tennis it was not a popular sport in India and I took it as a challenge. I wanted to popularise the sport and now I think I have somewhat succeeded it that.
“Winning four medals is just the beginning for me. I want to fetch medals at the Asian Games, world championship and Olympics. My dream is to see this sport as popular at par with badminton and wrestling among others.”
Beating world no. 4 and triple Olympic medallist Feng Tianwei of Singapore, twice in the tournament, gave Manika a confidence that she always lacked.
“We were in awe of players from China and Singapore but now I think I am more confident about facing them. I always dreamt that our flag would be on top and when it happened at Gold Coast, it was the best moment of my Commonwealth journey. In the last CWG, the Singapore flag was on top and then only I promised myself that in next Games I will make the tri-colour fly higher.
“I still need to work a lot on my fitness to compete with the best (Chinese and Japanese). The game has become faster than ever,” she added.
The next challenge is the world team championships in Sweden from 29 April and the Asian Games in August. Batra credits her coach Sandeep Gupta and mother for her CWG feats.
“I will stick to my coach for my further training as he knows me in and out. I have no plans to train abroad under a new coach. I don’t think anybody can better train me than my coach Sandeep sir.”
Asked whether she thought of returning with such an exceptional medal haul, pat came the reply, “No… I never thought of winning medals or facing the world no. 4. Then I would come under pressure. I just played my game and gave my best.”
Gupta, who has coached Batra since she was a four-year-old, believes the government’s Target Olympic Podium scheme helped immensely. “The TOP scheme helped her a lot in getting world-class training and exposure,” he says. “We collected the data and went to Japan’s national training centre and visited top European centres as well. That training is now showing results.”