BENGALURU: Despite lagging behind traditional Asian swimming powerhouses, India have been strong contenders in Asian Age Group Swimming Championship. That they got 40 medals (5 gold, 13 silver and 22 bronze) at the last edition (2017) in Tashkent (Uzbekistan) is evidence of Indian swimmers’ capabilities.
As Bengaluru hosts the tenth edition from Tuesday onwards, India’s 44-member swimming team are expecting to better their medal tally. However, the ace swimmers — Srihari Nataraj, Virdhawal Khade and Sajan Prakash — aren’t just looking at the podium; this is an Olympic qualifying event. Having clocked the B cut (Olympic standard time) for 2020 Olympics, the trio’s seek to use home advantage to make that elusive A cut.
Out of the three, Nataraj and Khade are close to becoming the first Indian swimmers to get the A mark. Nataraj broke the national records in all three backstroke events (50m, 100m and 200m). He clocked 54.69s in the 100m backstroke at Junior World Championship to get past the OST (55.47s). Now, the 18-year-old is 0.84s behind the A mark (53.85s) in the discipline, and he is confident of getting the job done at home.
“I’m in good physical condition. I am confident that gold medals are going to come, but it’s the faster timings that I am looking at,” said Nataraj. “I didn’t get a lot of time to work on any specific area. I have kept it casual and stayed relaxed. But preparations have been good, and I’m confident of the A mark in 100m backstroke.”
For Khade and Prakash, though, these are testing times. Khade had a poor outing at the Worlds, and so did Prakash. The latter was not good at the senior nationals either. Khade did get the B cut in 50m freestyle — clocking 22.44s in the senior nationals — but he is yet to better his own personal best (22.43s) he clocked at the last Asian Games. Trailing 0.43s in the event, Khade wants to go all guns blazing at the Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence, where he trains everyday.
For Prakash, it’s going to be complicated. His focus is on 200m butterfly, in which he clocked 1:58.45s to breach the OST. However, he hasn’t been close to his personal best (1:57.73s), and is more than a second off in the discipline.
“I have spent a lot of time travelling in the last few months. The focus has been on strength and conditioning. I have worked on my power, and the aim for now is to improve my timings,” Prakash said.
India coach Pradeep Kumar T believes that the strong competition at this event will push the trio and other Indian swimmers to achieve the A mark. “We should win handsome medals. We’ll probably overtake the previous tally. But it’s a high-level competition. So they will get pushed. The chances of getting the A qualification are high.”
None from Pakistan
As reported last month by this daily, despite having expressed interest, Pakistan never confirmed its entry. “Pakistan never confirmed participation because their government never gave them clearance. Unless they do, they cannot confirm participation. We sent invites to all 45 countries in Asia. If they had applied, we’d have gotten the clearance,” said SFI executive director Virendra Nanavati.