By Latshering Glan Tamang
Photos by Anup Ale Magar
Table tennis player Santoo Shrestha is the rising star of Nepali table tennis. At 18 years of age, Shrestha dominated the 2017-18 season of the domestic tournaments and vaulted to the top spot in the rankings. Shrestha won three out of four national-level tournaments and lost only one out of almost three dozen finals at a different level.
Shrestha was unbeaten in the national team selection tournament and capped a memorable year with triple gold in the 39th National Table Tennis Championships. He won men’s singles, doubles, and team events. The three-peat was preceded by men’s singles and team event title in the Thamel Open Championships.
The only defeat of the season for Shrestha came in the ninth Purna Man Memorial Open table tennis tournament. The Nepal Police Club player has garnered a widespread popularity following the impressive run at home. It is one of the reasons why Shrestha bagged the ‘People’s Choice Award’ during the 15th Pulsar Sports 2018.
In the recent 18th Asian Games that took place in the Indonesian cities of Jakarta and Palembang, the 187-strong-squad—which took part in 29 disciplines—ended up with one silver, four national records, and a total of 24 wins though National Sports Council Member Secretary Keshab Kumar Bista had announced that the teams had the best-ever preparation for this tournament. However, table tennis produced four wins with Santoo Shrestha and Nabita Shrestha winning in the singles events, while Amar Lal Malla and Swechhya Nembang registering a win in mixed doubles. Nepal also won a match in a team event.
WAVE gets close with this 18-year-old star and talks about ups and downs of Nepali sports, with the special spotlight on table tennis.
- You made an early exit during 18th Asian Games, what were the challenges you had faced?
I have less experience in the international front, because of which, I found myself being slower than my competitors, and my focus was less. I believe more international exposure is required for all sportsperson like me to be the better version of ourselves.
- What should be done to hone the skills of Nepali players?
Even experienced players of Nepal do not have skills as equal to that of other countries. So, players should be provided with special training and make them ready for the future. The concerned bodies are walking in a snail’s pace, and even senior Nepali players are getting defeated by young players of other countries.
- What kinds of training could make the players more skilful?
Training of an international level should be provided to the players, and such training programs should be organised abroad. But players should be determined for that, and their priority should not be in sightseeing in a new country. If players are found not being serious, stern action should be taken by the concerned bodies.
“Coaches in Nepal are knowledgeable more in theories and less in practical, so, they need to be practically-strong and more focused. Coaches should use modern techniques and equipments to train the players, and they should give better facilities to the players.” —Santoo Shrestha
- In the past, national teams from Nepal—especially from taekwondo and karate—used to secure greater wins. But today, these achievements are rarely heard. What has happened?
In the past, the skills of Nepali players and that of other countries were comparatively the same, but as the time passed by, they became more developed but we remained the same. Their training style started getting better and ours remained the same.
- What were the challenges before you in becoming a national table tennis player?
To be honest, there weren’t any huge challenges before because I had no pressure for the game; I just gave my best performance. But after becoming a national champion, I felt like my journey of challenges has just started. I felt that the gateway to a mountain has just opened before me.
- How did you overcome your challenges?
By playing day and day and practising three times more than I used to. I think I had consulted with my mentors and coaches even for a minutest of an issue. The seven-time champion Nabita Shrestha has guided me a lot to be mentally-strong.
- What do you want to do for a living?
My first priority is my education because I can’t stay being a national champion all my life. One day, I should stop it because there is no good future for sportsperson in Nepal.
- Are you going to pursue table tennis for a living?
I don’t think I will, but the future is unpredictable.
- If you are not thinking of taking table tennis as a career, what else do you want to do in life?
I want to be a businessman in the future, and I might do some business in the field related to table tennis. But, I can also be taking table tennis alongside even if I pursue some other fields as my career.
- Why did you choose to play table tennis?
Before playing table tennis, I used to swim and my elder brother was a national swimming champion. Knowing this, the former chief coach Shanker Gautam asked my father why we were into the same sports. This made us think twice, and I joined Lainchaur Table Tennis Centre because I was good at playing table tennis too. Just after three months of training, I was able to secure the gold medal in Cambridge International Championship. This success made me fall in love with the sports.
- What should one do to become a good or best table tennis player? Your suggestions to wannabe table tennis players.
First of all, one should have support from his/her parents. Next, hard work, dedication and patience are very important. At last, good coaching— from those with a capability of bringing best out of you in international championships—is a must which I’m lacking.