BENGALURU: On the starting block, the huge six-foot-three frame is ready for the plunge. The face is all seriousness, as the eyes stare at the water. Be it at the Ramakrishna Hegde Swimming Pool or the SAI training centre in Bengaluru, this has become a familiar sight. Srihari Nataraj is a picture of concentration, irrespective of whether he is training or competing.
It has helped the 17-year-old draw attention. After winning numerous medals at the junior level, he was adjudged best swimmer at the senior nationals last year for clinching gold in 50m, 100m and the 200m backstroke, setting two national and one meet record in the process. Overall, he won four gold and one silver. He also clinched six gold medals at the Khelo India School Games.
These achievements have come at some cost for Nataraj, who has cut himself off from social life to concentrate on swimming. “I have sacrificed everything. No eating out, no late nights, no parties, going to bed early, maintaining proper diet. My focus is on swimming only. All these sacrifices were made with the hope that it will help me in my swimming,” Nataraj says.
Set to test himself at the Asian Games, he had represented India at the Commonwealth Games in April in 50m, 100m and 200m backstroke, but failed to reach the finals. There were positives, though, as he broke the national record in 100m. Now, he will see if he can match the likes of Virdhawal Khade and Sandeep Sejwal, who won swimming medals at the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games.
The youngster has set himself clear goals. He wants to go under two minutes in 200m backstroke. With a personal best of 2:03, he has to better it to be in medal contention in Jakarta. In the last three editions of the Games, bronze winners in men’s 200m backstroke clocked 1:59:34 (2006), 1:58:93 (2010) and 1:56:36 (2014). Nataraj’s timing in CWG was 2:04:75 and he is working on his problem areas.
“I do not take any kind of pressure (of winning medals). I just try and achieve my target. I want to break the two-minute barrier in 200m at the Asiad. I have the stamina, speed to do so,” said Nataraj, who will represent India in three events, with 200m being his focus.
He knows that the task isn’t easy. “I need to increase my physical strength to get faster turns and be better under water, which will make a huge difference in the 200m race. I have coaches, who are looking after this aspect as well. As of now, I have the speed, stamina, energy, but there is a need for me to work on the technique too,” said Nataraj.
Coach AC Jayarajan, who has been trying to help his ward get quicker on the turns, is happy with the progress he has made over the years and expects him to achieve greater heights. “In 200m backstroke, which is his main event, he can reach the finals. He has a very strong finish and is really strong in the second 100m. I am confident that he will improve his timings from the CWG and should finish the race below two minutes. He can go on to become one of the best ever Indian swimmers,” said the coach.
However, the backstroke specialist is not looking too far ahead. As of now, his focus stays firmly on the Asian Games. After that, time will tell where he goes.