BENGALURU : Not every day you see an Indian swimmer beat an Olympic champion. On a comeback trail, Virdhawal Khade did just that, beating local star and Rio Olympics gold medallist Joseph Schooling at the Singapore National Swimming Championships, clocking 50.26 seconds in 100m freestyle to win the gold medal. Khade’s coach Nihar Ameen believes it will give him the necessary boost for the Asian Games. “It’s a massive boost, which will work as a huge motivating factor for him. I hope he can build on it at Jakarta,” Ameen said.
Winner of bronze in 50m butterfly at the 2010 Asian Games, Khade had been away from the pool for over four years after that. His comeback began last September when he decided to give his career another shot. Two medals at the national championship proved he still had it in him. He went to the Commonwealth Games, but failed to progress to the finals in the 50m freestyle and butterfly events. Since then, Khade’s recovery and progress have been good, although he is still not 100 per cent following an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury and surgery last year, which has affected his start. To compete against the best in the shorter formats, a perfect start is mandatory.
Khade says he is still working on that. “It’s a disadvantage for sure but at the same time, at the Padukone- Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence, with modern recovery techniques, it has improved. I would say it is at 90-95 per cent and still improving. Hamstring takes time to heal but I hope it will not be a drawback at the Asian Games,” said Khade, who will participate in 50m and 100m freestyle and 50m butterfly. Despite improving, Khade still has to shave a second to be in the medal bracket in the 50m races, his pet events. His best in 2018 stands him at seventh in both these events.
In 100m freestyle, he is a distant 14th, more than a second behind what would ensure a podium finish. Khade and his coach, however, believe shading half a second would be enough. “I think I’m on track for a medal at the Asiad. It’s a realistic target considering my progression. I just have to put it together on the race day without making mistakes,” the Arjuna award winner said. “For a medal, I think shading half a second in the 50m events would be enough.
Those are my strong events anyway. I’m working on it and the progress has been good.” Training on own expense Khade is spending from his own pocket for training in Bengaluru. There has been no funding from any quarter so far. “It has been completely on me. I got some funding for CWG, but there has so far been nothing for the Asian Games. It’s been difficult,” said the swimmer who is appointed by the Maharashtra government as a tehshildar. This is not the first time. Soon after he won bronze at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, he had found himself in a similar situation.
There was no one to support his training. “I hoped after the 2010 medal I would receive full support from the government or corporate bodies. But nobody came up. I felt neglected then and it’s the same now. This way, it’s difficult to continue and perhaps, the 2020 Olympics will be my last. With little to no help, I can’t go on like this forever,” said the 26-year-old. firstname.lastname@example.org