CHENNAI: “I am just trying to swim as fast as possible.” Those are the words of Srihari Nataraj, one of the fastest Indian backstrokers of all time. The 18-year-old is unlike most Indian athletes in his age group. While most youngsters like to go abroad on exposure trips, Nataraj, who went to the Youth Olympics last year, ‘likes to train at home’. Over the last few months, Nataraj has been training with two different objectives. “Getting to the Olympics with an ‘A’ time (against my name) and do well at the World Aquatics Championships,” he tells this daily.
He is confident of not only doing well at the upcoming Worlds in South Korea (July 12 - July 28 in Gwangju) but also breaching the ‘A’ time required to go to the Olympics. “Preparations for the Worlds have been going well. I have been training at the Bangalore Swim Research Centre. Right now, I am just trying to be as precise as possible.
“I have spoken to my strength and conditioning coach and I am confident that I can qualify for the Olympics with an ‘A’ time,” he says. If he does achieve it at the Worlds, it will be no mean feat — his personal best in the 100m backstroke is 55:86 while the ‘A’ qualifying time is 53:85. To get to a new milestone, he has been working on the middle part of the race. “My coach (Jayaraj) has asked to me focus on the middle segment of my race as I have a good start and end.”
In Korea, he will compete at the 50, 100, and 200m backstroke events. After that, he is eyeing an exposure trip to Australia but nothing has been finalised. Even otherwise, ‘I prefer training at home’.
Another swimmer who hopes to punch a ticket to the Olympics at the Worlds is Sajan Prakash, who is fresh off competing from the Singapore Open Nationals. While that event wasn’t ‘up to my liking in terms of results’, he will be leaving for Dubai soon. “I will go to Dubai soon to work on my speed training...It’s basically race-based training,” he says. One of the country’s best breaststroke swimmers, the 25-year-old is now ‘tapering’. “It’s the practice of reducing exercise before big events,” he says.
For the next few weeks for him, it will be all about increasing the distance per stroke under the supervision of national coach Pradeep Kumar. “More the distance per stroke, you save energy at the end when you need it the most. I have been working on it and I will continue to do it for the time being.”
Like Nataraj, Prakash also has a mountain to climb if he is to achieve the ‘A’ time for Tokyo. His personal best in the 200m butterfly is 1:57.75, easily outside 1:56.48.
Prakash can take part in four events at the Worlds (100 and 200 breaststroke and 200 and 400 in freestyle) but he will make his mind up after speaking with the coach. For now, speed training awaits both these swimmers before the flight to Korea.
Men: Sajan Prakash, Virdhawal Khade, Advait Page, Srihari Nataraj, Likhith SP, Kushagra Rawat, Sushir Kapse, Saurabh Sangvekar, Siddhartha Pardeshi. Women: Nikhita Venugopal, Hita Nayak