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Kutral Ramesh – Guinness Record Holder

3 July 2008 10 Comments

Dear Readers,The part one of the interview can be found here – Kutral Ramesh – Arjuna Awardee.Kutral, born and brought up in Tamil Nadu, went on to become a marathon swimmer. He swam across English Channel in 1994 when he was just 13 years old. That very same calendar year, he swam across 6 channels to break Mihir Sen’s record of swimming across 5 channels in a calendar year. Kutral’s name was included in Guinness Book of World records for this feat. Kutral went on to win Arjuna Award in 1996.Incidentally, there is a lesson on Kutraleeswaran a.k.a Kutral in Tamil Nadu State Board text book.Coffee with Kutral Ramesh – Part 2kutral1.jpgMe: Kutral, continuing from where we left, how did the English Channel moment happen? Can you talk about it?KR: Swimming across the English Channel is like climbing the Himalayas. It is the pinnacle & the dream for every marathon swimmer.To cross the channel, you should reach the place month or two before and get adjusted to the climate there. Apart from the climate factor, there is also the money factor! The estimate for the trip was around 7 – 8 Lakhs of INR way back in 1994. So, we approached Jayalalithaa, then chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Apart from granting an aid for this, she also recommended that I should swim across the Palk Strait, which lies between Tamil Nadu & Sri Lanka. I first completed this mission. After this, I went on to cross the English Channel.Me: And of course you went on to swim 3 more channels that year 🙂 Please talk about it.KR: Yes. 🙂 After I crossed the English Channel, someone told us about Mihir Sen’s record.Mihir had crossed 5 straits in 1 calendar year (in 1960s). The record was unbroken for over 30 years. I had already crossed two straits – Palk & English Channel. Palk Strait was completed somewhere in April. I crossed English Channel on August 15th. So, I had 4 months to swim past 4 straits. I decided that I would give a shot at the record.I swam across Rottnest Channel in Australia, Straits of Messina at Italy & Zanone Circeo at Italy. Finally, I crossed the Andaman Channel. In fact, I completed the Andaman Channel on December 30th, just before the end of calendar year :-), and hence made my entry into the Guinness book of Records!!!Me: Amazing! It sounds like a fairy tale 🙂 How did you feel after accomplishing the feat?KR: To be honest, I was too young to realize the fame. I was probably 12 years then. I was enjoying the swimming more than the Guinness Book Record!Me: You were offered professional training by Government of Italy if you had accepted their clause of representing Italy in the World Series? You declined the offer! How easy or difficult was it? We generally don’t get a chance to a call between passion & patriotism. What was your thought process?KR: Yes! I was offered this chance. After swimming across 2 straits in Italy, the national coach of Italy offered me a chance to get ‘adopted’ by Italy. They were willing to sponsor my complete training, but I had to represent Italy.But it wasn’t difficult to make the call at all. I immediately rejected the offer. There was no second thought about it and I will never repent for my decision ever. In fact, I didn’t even consult my parents. Remember, I was 12 year old then. They also agreed that my decision was correct! As such, it wasn’t really difficult.Me: Next in the long list of great accomplishments was Arjuna Award! – The award instituted by Government of India in 1961 to recognize outstanding achievement in National Sports! Please talk about it.KR: Actually, I was only focusing on solo swims for a while, i.e. swimming across channels etc. It was not a competition. After setting the record, I started taking part in competitions all over the world!I was selected for the World Series in Swimming. This is the Olympics equivalent in marathon swimming. I was the only participant from Asia of the 25 swimmers selected across the world! Between 1995 and 1998, I represented India in over 6 competitions around the Globe and won medals for our nation, which includes the 1st prize in Switzerland.I was awarded Arjuna Award for bringing laurels to the country and for the Guinness Record!Me: How did you feel at this moment? What was your happiest moment in swimming career?KR: I was extremely happy! I was probably 17 years old when I got the Arjuna Award! But if I have to pick the happiest moment, I would say crossing Palk Strait & English Channel. Both were equally important and equally satisfying. It had trained really hard for these. I had 8 hour long rigorous training per day before each of these. My happiest moment in my swimming career is shared between English Channel & Palk Strait.Me: You were 17 when you had achieved all these. I think you would have been in your 10th Standard at this time? How did you manage your academics?KR: My school was very supportive. I am honest here. I didn’t even attempt my final exams in 7th & 8th standards. In 9th, I couldn’t even go to school. I didn’t write any intermediate exams. I spent all my time in training & competition. But I had to write the final exam, which I managed to clear with some 60 odd percent.When I reached my 10th standard, I was at the far end of my swimming career. Also, I found 10th standard to be easy. I was able to manage it well.When I was in 12th, my primary focus was academics. I decided to give a break to swimming. When I joined College of Engineering, Anna University, I thought I could straddle between swimming & academics. But with frequent internal & external examinations, it wasn’t really feasible.I chose to focus on Engineering to make a career. I didn’t want to take risks. So, I didn’t take part in any major competitions after that. After my engineering, I joined University of Texas at Dallas for my masters. Subsequently I joined Intel at California. I am joining MIT Sloan this fall for my MBA. But amidst all this, I swim for hobby and fun, but I don’t take part in any competitions these days.Me: Along with your school, it is needless to say your family supported you!KR: Of course! My dad was the one who gave me the push. He used to take me along to all the training lessons. He took a sabbatical from work to focus on my swimming career. My mother was always there with me. My brother used to come along for the all the competitions. He used to handle all the operations issues & he was an informal PR for me. The whole family played a big role in my success.Me: You mentioned earlier that it costs a lot to take part in these contests. How did you manage the funding?KR: I couldn’t get sponsorship and that was also one of the reasons why I quit swimming. Actually, for the last few tours, we had to spend money of out my own pocket. These international trips are extremely expensive. And the prize money is not very high. So, it was not a sustainable model :-)I don’t know what the status of sponsorship is today, but I don’t expect it to be any better – especially for marathon swimming. The short course swimming like 100m, 200m etc are bit more popular. But I don’t think it is substantially better, though I see a big improvement from what it was 15 years ago!The sports awareness & the infrastructure are quite bad in our country. Going further, the prize money has to increase, else it is not sustainable. In Australia or US, an average sports guy makes much better than an engineer at Google. But take the case of India. An average sports man can’t make a living. He hardly earns anything with sports. He should start looking for supplementary income.Me: But just compare that with cricket in India. Forget the Dhonis & the Tendulkars. The rest get a minimum salary in IPL is 20 lakhs.KR: Well that’s true.Take my case. I am swimmer. If there is a cricket match & a marathon swimming live on TV, I will choose Cricket!. Cricket has viewership. The huge fan base drives the business houses to pour money. But consider hockey, our national sport, I assume it too falls into the poor visibility spectrum, if not as bad as swimming.There is a vicious cycle here. Businesses put money only if more people watch. More people watch only if there is a good quality sports. But the quality can be improved only if there is more money. Most of the sports in India are stuck with this cycle.Me: So, how do we break the loop?KR: The only way to improve this is to give better salary to players who reach district level. To reach a district level, you must be a decent sportsman. The state government or central government or private sponsors should assure him financial independence. This is the only viable option for improving sports in India.Just think about it, an engineer can lead a decent life with good monetary benefits. But a sports person can’t do it today. So this has to become better.Me: But that brings us back to the vicious cycle. In other words, you see no hope?KR: Well I won’t be too pessimistic. Things are becoming better in India. Take for example, tennis or carom or chess. They are getting good coverage these days. The number of swimming pools in India is increasing. The infrastructure for squash is becoming better. India had its best Olympics last year.There needs to be some changes at the Grass Roots level.Me: True! No doubt things are improving. But the rest of the world is improving at a much faster pace! Anyways, what your future plans?KR: Well, in terms of “looong long”-term, I want to be an entrepreneur and I want to settle in India. But if you ask me details like what sector, what business model etc? I still haven’t thought about it.In terms of sports, I want to open an academy to train people. May be sports academy is my entrepreneurial venture. Not sure yet!But in the short term, I want to focus on my MBA at MIT. After that I would like to work in US for sometime before returning back to my mother land.Me: Sure. On behalf of all CWS-2 readers, I wish you good luck in whatever you do! Before we finish, what is your advice for young aspirants and more importantly, their parents?KR: Well I am not too old or consider myself accomplished enough to give any ‘advice’ per se :-)I can share my opinions though – I have been noticing that these days’ parents are forcing kids to take up a number of hobbies. These days’ kids attend 3 or 4 classes like piano, tennis etc. This adds too much burden on them. I believe that Kids should do what they like. So, my suggestion to parents would be to give them some time to see if the “passion sticks on” to them, instead of trying everything at one go. But once you decide what you want to pursue, you should do it with a lot of commitment.So typically what I believe in is -1. Figure out what you like to do2. Work Hard! Work Hard! And Work Hard at what you like the most! That’s the only way to succeed.Me: Thank you so much Kutral. It was really amazing having you on the first show in CWS-2! Thanks once again for you time. I am sure the readers would have enjoyed this chat with you!@CWS-2 Readers: I hope you enjoyed this first show on Coffee with Sundar – Season 2! If you have any comments, suggestions, criticisms & praises (Of course! :-)), please do leave a comment. If you want to contact me personally, you can do it at the contact page.See you later!

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10 Comments »

  • balaji said:

    Kutraleeshwaran is a legend was and a household name. Feels good to read about him now, and happy that he is well placed.
    Good luck for CWS-2, Bandar’s Revenge (in IMax).

  • sam said:

    I just thought about Kutraleeswaran, as he is unseen in newspapers for a while. found this article. very genuine and neutral comments and answers. I was in college when he was little. good luck Kutral. May God bless his family.

  • When Indians can swim… « A Message To India said:

    […] The sports awareness and the infrastructure are quite bad in our country. Going further, the prize money has to increase, else it is not sustainable. In Australia or US, an average sports guy makes much better than an engineer at Google. But take the case of India. An average sports man can’t make a living. He hardly earns anything with sports, the swimmer said to Coffee with Sundar.com. […]

  • La Nage Indienne… « A Message to India said:

    […] L’intĂ©rĂŞt pour le sport et les infrastructures sont assez mauvaises dans notre pays. Lorsqu’on va plus loin, le montant des prix doit augmenter, sinon on stagne. En Australie ou aux USA, les sportifs moyens gagnent plus d’argent qu’un ingĂ©nieur informatique de chez Google. Mais prenez le cas de l’Inde. Un sportif de base ne peut pas vivre. Il ne gagne presque rien avec le sport qu’il pratique, a expliquĂ© le nageur Ă  Coffee with Sundar.com. […]

  • Sunny said:

    Kutral could have become another Phelps or Lochte,provided he got supported by sponsors. Hope he plays for his motherland or adopted country someday and win over laurels !