San Jose resident Nikhil Kumar, who will soon pursue Computer Science at the University of California in Berkeley, is one of the six champion paddlers representing the USA at the Tokyo Olympics.
A left-handed table tennis player, Indian-American Nikhil earned first place in the American table tennis Olympic trials. He had won gold at the 2019 Lima Pan American Games and secured Men’s U-21 bronze at the 2020 ITTF Portugal Open.
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Born in 2003, Nikhil is all set to be the youngest American TT player at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, home of the 2021 Olympics TT arena.
Kanak Jha, another Indian-American in the USATT squad, will be playing in his second successive Olympics. Kanak is a Youth Olympics bronze medallist and has won the men’s singles and doubles gold at the 2019 US National championships.
Kanak is a 2018 Pan American singles gold medalist and trains in Germany, where Table Tennis infrastructure is considered very good. However, he belongs to the SF Bay Area, also known as the Silicon Valley.
Nikhil’s father, Sashi Kumar, gave credit for his son’s success to former Indian table tennis player Rajul Sheth, who is referred to as “the most successful table tennis program in the US” by the USATT website.
“Rajul, being a sportsman himself, had the drive. Nikhil has achieved a lot because of him. The sport is difficult because of limited facilities. You will not find a single TT table at 99 per cent of American schools. Hence the club stepped up,” Sashi Kumar said.
In Milpitas city, India Community Center (ICC) imported coaches from abroad to take Rajul’s young talents to international levels. In 2005, Rajul started a summer programme with two TT tables and a few kids.
“Indian coaches are very good for younger kids. Coaches from China are high-level playing partners, with a clear style and strategy,” Rajul was quoted as saying.
The ICC has been transformed into a 20,000 sq.ft. hotbed of US table tennis, which is the largest in North America, by Rajul. Kanak and Nikhil, his proteges, are now all set to pursue Olympic glory.