Younger swimming champ Mihir Ambre who bagged a number of medals on the Khelo India Youth Video games 2020 held in Guwahati this January | Photograph Credit score: Ritu Raj Konwar
With each lap he takes in a pool in Dubai, Srihari Nataraj turns into more and more conscious that he has to wake Indian swimming from its deep slumber. The 19-year-old from Bengaluru owns all three nationwide information in backstroke and is at the moment the nation’s brightest prospect within the sport. However India is a fledgling in world swimming: no Indian has ever made the ‘A’ qualification commonplace, which provides a confirmed berth for the Olympics. Those that made it to the Video games earlier took the very unpredictable ‘B’ qualification route or went via the universality quota provided by the world physique FINA to international locations the place no swimmer has made the qualification minimize.
India has gained only one gold within the Asian Video games, which was bagged by Sachin Nag within the 100m freestyle on the inaugural version in New Delhi in 195. Even bronze medals on the Asian Video games are uncommon: two got here from the final eight editions, the most recent being Sandeep Sejwal’s bronze within the 2014 Asiad in Incheon, South Korea. So why is swimming doing so poorly in India?
“You may say it’s unhealthy luck. On the Asian Video games, we now have China and Japan which are among the many high 4 within the males’s part within the Olympics, and among the many high 5 – 6 within the ladies’s part. And in most occasions, they determine within the finals on the Olympics,” says Wilson Cherian, as soon as the nation’s best backstroke swimmer, who completed fourth within the 1982 Asian Video games in New Delhi. “They’re superb. Once we compete in opposition to them on the Asiad, we solely end fifth or sixth,” he says. “And plenty of international locations, like Singapore and Korea, ship their swimmers to the U.S. for coaching. In contrast to India, swimming will get good assist in these international locations.”
The Commonwealth Video games are harder nonetheless. “In sports activities similar to desk tennis and badminton, getting a Commonwealth Video games gold is straightforward. It’s robust for Indian swimmers to win the Asiad gold due to the presence of nations like China, Japan and Korea; and within the Commonwealth Video games, the place we now have Australia, England and South Africa, we don’t stand an opportunity,” says Cherian.
Indians are some 20 years behind the world’s finest within the sport, says the Chennai-based former ace. “We’re simply reaching the Nineteen Nineties commonplace with regards to strokes and methods. We’re up to now behind; even once we do the somersault for the flip, the hole is clearly obvious,” he says. “If you happen to have a look at the 100m backstroke, the world champion [Xu Jiayu] is Chinese language. The Japanese are additionally far forward. Their strokes are superb, their method a lot superior to us. They’re simply concerning the dimension of Indian swimmers however in method, they’re manner forward. They use expertise to their benefit, their coaches are good they usually even have international specialists coaching them.”
Athletics and swimming are the 2 main disciplines in any multi-event video games. The 2018 Asian Video games in Jakarta spotlighted the stark distinction between the 2. Whereas athletics obtained India its best-ever haul of 20 medals, together with eight gold, swimming had nothing to point out for itself in Jakarta. Swimming additionally occurs to be among the many final sports activities to have opened for coaching after the lockdown. Six months after they had been despatched out, swimmers returned to the pool solely on October 15.
India despatched three elite swimmers — Nataraj, Kushagra Rawat and Sajan Prakash — to Dubai in direction of the tip of August for a two-month coaching camp organised by the Swimming Federation of India (SFI). “The texture of the water was very bizarre the primary day, my arms managed okay however my legs felt completely different. It took some time to get the texture again,” says Nataraj on a name from Dubai.
The nation stands to realize immensely from the teenager’s progress. And Cherian feels Nataraj might be the game-changer that Indian swimming is desperately searching for. “In my view, he’s the one world-class swimmer within the nation. If he focuses laborious, he can create historical past, maybe even develop into the primary Indian swimmer to achieve the ultimate on the Olympics,” says Cherian.
“He’s very gifted and is nearly 6’4”. And he has obtained sturdy legs. His strokes have a very good attain and he’s simply 19. I really feel he could make the Olympic ‘A’ qualification commonplace subsequent yr. If he works laborious, he’s able to getting into the Olympic ultimate.”
Nataraj, who has achieved the Olympic ‘B’ qualification commonplace within the 100m again together with his private better of 54.69s, is assured of creating the ‘A’ minimize (53.85s). “I do know I could make the ‘A’ qualification, and I’m a lot quicker timings, one thing that can assure me an Asian Video games medal… one thing like 52s [in the 100m backstroke],” says Nataraj, who got here seventh within the 100m backstroke and sixth within the 50m on the Junior Worlds in Budapest final yr.
Can he meet his distinctive targets?
“I normally have very excessive expectations of myself, quickly I’ll meet them,” says the youth, who’s coached by A.C. Jayarajan. Excelling on the highest degree is all concerning the thoughts. “I wasn’t the quickest at Budapest (final yr’s Junior Worlds). After I knew there are people who find themselves quicker than me, I knew I needed to do one thing completely different,” says Nataraj. “It’s all within the thoughts and I knew I had it in me.”
Nataraj believes that a number of good performances on the world degree might remodel the game within the nation. And people don’t appear too far-off. “We do have some good expertise, we now have fairly a number of swimmers with quite a lot of potential,” says Nataraj, who spent the lockdown days attending clinics and studying to grasp the science of his sport higher. “If all the pieces goes properly, we now have a shot at a number of medals on the 2022 Asian Video games. I don’t see why we are able to’t race them [the Chinese and the Japanese]. The neatest swimmer will all the time have an edge over a swimmer who is robust. Gold must be potential except Xu Jiayu [the 100m backstroke world champion and Olympic silver medallist] drops one second and breaks the world document.”
Solely time will inform if Nataraj will attain his objective, however Indian swimming can definitely do with such confidence.
Distance specialist Advait Web page, one of many six from the nation to make the ‘B’ commonplace for subsequent yr’s Olympics, additionally believes that the lengthy wait to make the ‘A’ minimize might finish within the subsequent few months.
“After a very long time, India can see swimmers making the ‘A’ minimize. It might be the younger or the skilled. Troublesome to say when and what number of, however earlier than the Olympics in 2021, I’m optimistic concerning the elusive ‘A’ minimize,” says Web page, who now trains on the College of Florida, U.S., the place he has a few of the world’s finest swimmers to encourage him. “When that occurs, extra younger swimmers who’re coaching laborious will get motivated,” he says.
Monal Chokshi, the Secretary Normal of SFI, additionally feels that India might have two ‘A’ qualifiers for Tokyo. “Presently, [freestyle sprinter] Virdhawal Khade and Srihari are very near ‘A’. However, truthfully, it’s very troublesome to say as a result of swimmers who’ve made the ‘B’ minimize had been additionally out of coaching for about six months. For them to come back again to kind after which convert their ‘B’ to ‘A’ isn’t a straightforward activity,” he says. “And we’re two to a few months behind different high international locations by way of resuming coaching. It’s a setback, however we now have time to make the minimize.”
Three distance swimmers — Rawat, Web page, Aryan Makhija and butterfly star Prakash — moreover Khade and Nataraj, have made the ‘B’ qualification commonplace. “Kushagra Rawat (400, 800 and 1,500m) is the one swimmer with three ‘B’ cuts. However the ‘A’ qualification time for Kushagra and Advait in two occasions (800 and 1,500m) appears robust particularly contemplating they haven’t been coaching for six months; the gap occasions require quite a lot of endurance capability,” explains Chokshi. “The 100m backstroke is extra like a dash occasion. And I might say, as a federation, we might not like to leap the gun. Our greatest needs are with all of the boys.”
Regardless of the various setbacks, Indian swimming on the high degree seems now to have a youthful and promising look about it. “If you happen to have a look at final yr’s under-18 world rankings, we had 5 boys within the high 100. These 5 have a protracted approach to go and if they’re good and in the event that they proceed to remain in competitors for the following eight to 10 years, the longer term could be very shiny. As a result of, in swimming, the height efficiency age on the world degree is between 24 and 26 years,” stated the SFI Secretary.
What’s vital is how they practice going ahead, over these two Olympic cycles, says Choksi. As for the ladies, they haven’t but made a significant contribution on the world degree; even the Olympic ‘B’ qualifiers are solely boys proper now, says Choksi.
“However we now have some superb swimmers within the women class, additionally within the under-18 group, together with Ridhima V. Kumar, Apeksha Fernandes, Shivangi Sarma and Bhavya Sachdeva — so we’re hopeful. What might be vital is how we’re going to work with them within the subsequent 4 to eight years.”
There’s one lacking ingredient within the sport, says Choksi, which is probably why the swimmers lag behind their counterparts different Asian international locations. “It’s not about what has been stopping them usually because our swimmers have been constantly getting quicker. What has been lacking is a sports activities science component of their coaching,” he says.
“We now have good coaches in India, however we have to systematically leverage sports activities science. We should additionally give them far more worldwide publicity.” Shifting ahead, that’s an space the SFI might be , bringing in world-class sports activities science assist for the highest athletes.
Our swimmers deserve all this and extra.
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Printable model | Feb 13, 2022 7:47:50 am | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/india-lags-behind-in-swimming-but-a-few-young-stars-are-training-hard-to-make-it-to-the-olympics/article32928131.ece
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