When Farokh Tarapore won his first Asian Games gold medal in sailing in 1982 (in the fireball class in Mumbai), Trunal Helegaonkar was not even born. When 21-year-old Helegaonkar won his first Asian Games medal—a silver in the match racing category at Guangzhou, China, last month—one of his teammates was Tarapore.
It’s not a statistic that surprises the 50-year-old Tarapore, who has also coached Helegaonkar in the past. With 40 years of sailing, having participated in eight successive Asian Games (there have been only 16 editions of the Games so far), won one gold medal, two silver and a bronze, having weathered wind, water and sports administrators, not much would surprise him.
Age no bar: Tarapore says he was the only 50-year-old medal winner in China. Hemant Mishra/Mint
He does not give much importance to age, having constantly fought the urge to quit; nor does he pay much attention to records because the Asian Games are already “history”. What keeps him going is the aim to “save yachting”.
“In the first five years of racing, with little success, I believed I knew everything. Today, I realize how little I know because new horizons are constantly opening up. Every night, I need to know I am better than I was the previous day,” Tarapore says.
The nearly 30-year age difference did not matter to him—“as long as you are in charge and do not let the mind play games, you are never really too old”—nor did the fact that he was part of a five-member team for the first time.
At this stage of his career, there are not too many “first times” for Tarapore. But he shared with his first-time teammates a common dream. “You dream, you struggle, you win,” he gives his simple, three-step formula for success.
Helegaonkar, shy and nervous compared to the confident assurance of Tarapore, says the latter was always a friend first, whether he was a coach or a teammate. It’s the spirit of camaraderie that helped the “dream team” when it was most needed.
Down 0-2 against China in the best-of-five semi-final, the team of Tarapore, Helegaonkar, Commodore Atool Sinha, Balraj and Shekar Singh Yadav was in trouble when it faced the proverbial quirk of fate—or, in this case, decision making. As Tarapore barked “DJ” (a code for double jive, a sailing manoeuvre), the team responded in 3 seconds and effected the change within a metre’s distance. It was a strategy the team had practised thousands of times over six months and the “opportunity to use it comes once”, says Tarapore. The Indians won the next three rounds and went to the final against Japan, which they lost.
That’s not the only example of camaraderie Tarapore gives. The night before their departure from Delhi, the team members parted without any further communication. Yet, at the airport, all of them arrived within a minute of each other and were within 50m of the other on arrival.
It’s this sort of shared ambition that encourages Tarapore to work towards “saving yachting” from what he considers poor administration. He says theirs was the only team at the Asian Games without a coach, after the one appointed earlier by the parent body, Yachting Association of India, could not help the team much.
“A bad coach is worse than no coach. But it gives me hope that if we can get a bad coach, we can perhaps get a good coach in the future,” he adds.
The team ended up getting advice over email on match racing. “We won on sheer talent and hard work,” says Sinha.
“The lines of success are very thin. The level of competition is always on the rise,” says Tarapore who, it would appear, is able to match it every step of the way.