First the good news: sporting spirit is still alive amongst Goans. Decades ago, we Goans, luxuriated on the sporting exploits of now aging fellow Goans. There were Goans who represented India in hockey, as also African countries in various sports. Sprinter Seraphino Antao who passed away last year won two events at the 1962 Commonwealth Games, making him the first Kenyan athlete to win a gold medal at an international level.But all those achievements, including the time when India won the gold in hockey at the Olympics were either lulled into oblivion or nostalgically reminisced. Lately however, interest in sports is witnessing a revival, with several locals making a mark at the national and international level, in new areas of sports —- tennis, swimming, and of course chess.
Amongst them, Ivana Furtado takes the cake after her persistent stellar performances in recent years. Her coveted Asian junior title glory this week exemplifies the resurgence of sports among Goans.
Ivana, won the world U-8 title for the first time in Georgia when she was a class III student, then going to become the youngest Indian world champ in any sport at the age of 7 years 226 days. Without doubt, for someone as young as Ivana, winning the Asian junior championship is an incredible feat. Her feat is all the more commendable because the championship is actually for the under-20 players, which simply means that several players older to her, with plenty of experience at the highest level, were vying for the coveted trophy.
With her performance, Ivana has carved a niche for herself, for Goa and India in the world of chess. There was a time when Anatoly Karpov was regarded as the ultimate in chess. Today, we have amongst us a native lass attaining similar status for her age group.
What makes her victory and our pride, even more emphatic, is the fact that she holds the distinction of being the only Indian to win the World Youth Chess Championship twice in a row.
Chess in Goa remained in relative oblivion till about three years ago, when youngsters like Ivana and Bhakti Kulkarni brought home the world championships crowns. For a state to produce world class chess players, when competitive chess was introduced less than a decade ago, has been no mean achievement, considering that performance in athletics and other long surviving sport has been dismal.
In this blaze of glory, there’s the risk of forgetting people behind the success of Ivana. Champions are born when the environment is conducive to the making of a champ. The formula employed by Ivan’s parents ought to be emulated by the hundreds of parents who dream of their offspring achieving such heights. The success of Leander Paes was the result of his parents’ commitment and zeal. Ivana will also have to thank Dronacharya awardee coach Raghunandan Gokhale who has been the guiding spirit in her quest for gold.
The title-triumph has helped Ivana now become a Women’s International Master (WIM). A player who wins the Asian Junior Chess Championship qualifies for the Women International Master title and also gets her first Women Grand Master norm. Ivana is now the second WIM and the youngest Goan after Bhakti to achieve that landmark. Chess has indeed brought a new dimension to Goa and people are recognizing Goans for their mental prowess!