BENGALURU: Indian swimmers have never been contenders in long-distance disciplines. However, in Kushagra Rawat and Advait Page, India just might have the people to change that perception.
Both of them have already achieved the Olympics ‘B’ qualifying mark and have continuously improved over the last few months. While Page is training in the US, Rawat is honing his skills in Delhi under coach Partha Pratim Majumder.
While Page is seven seconds faster in the 800m freestyle discipline, Rawat is working on his technique to better his timing and get the ‘A’ mark. The ongoing 10th Asian Age Group Swimming Championship was his first meet after the tweaks in technique. But it did not work out for him on Tuesday.
Though Rawat bagged gold in both the 200m and 800m freestyle events (18 years and above), he couldn’t better his best in the latter. The 19-year-old started well in 800m. At the halfway mark, it looked like he could get there but under intense rain, he faltered in the last 100m to finish with 8:10.05 — almost two and half seconds off his personal best. It was enough for a meet record and his second gold medal of the day. "My focus is on the 400m and 800m freestyle. After I got the ‘B’ cut (in Singapore Nationals in June), I made changes in my pacing. Earlier, I used to open really slowly and that used to have a bad impact on my timing. I have worked on that and now I open fast. This was the first meet where I raced with the new technique. Hopefully, it will work for me in the coming events," said Rawat.
In the shorter 200m event, he had to play catch-up with the Syrian Abbas Omar. Over the last 75m, Rawat pushed to beat Omar by 300th of a second. "I saw the person (Omar) next to me and pushed. I believed I had so much left in me so I just took all of it out. I’m really happy to have won gold but there is a lot to improve. I have the ‘B’ cut but that’s just a step. I will undergo four-six months of training after this competition and go abroad at some meets to try get the ‘A’ cut. It will be tough but I am confident of getting there by March-April," said Rawat.
Nataraj bags gold
India’s best hope of getting an ‘A’ cut, Srihari Nataraj started with gold in the 50m backstroke event. While 25.65 seconds in the non-Olympic discipline 50m backstroke wasn’t his best timing, Nataraj will be looking to better his own national record in the 100m version. On the first day, India bagged 18 medals (six gold, and as many silver and bronze).